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Coliseum Officials Weigh Options

Change in tactics comes amid little progress by NFL; giving control to USC is a possibility.

October 05, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Recognizing that little progress is being made on the NFL-to-Los Angeles front, members of the Coliseum Commission on Wednesday said they need to explore other options for the stadium, among them handing control of the venue to USC.

If that were to happen, it could effectively end the NFL's interest in that stadium.

"We can't just extend this indefinitely with no promise of a future that includes the NFL," said David Israel, one of three state-appointed members of the commission. "The stadium's almost 84 years old and in dire need of improvements. Maintenance has been deferred. We need new seats, we need new scoreboards, we need to rethink how the concourse works. And every year we wait, it gets more expensive to do."

In considering alternatives, Coliseum officials are following the lead of their Pasadena counterparts, who are exploring non-NFL options for the Rose Bowl, and those in Anaheim, who are entertaining other offers for a 53-acre parcel once earmarked for a football stadium.

"I'm not sure deadline is an appropriate word," said Bill Chadwick, another commission member. "But I wouldn't wait until the end of October," when NFL owners will convene in New Orleans for their fall meeting. "I think we need to aggressively pursue a Plan B so we have more than one viable alternative."

The NFL, which has been in sporadic negotiations with the Coliseum for the last decade, apparently was caught off guard by the development.

"This is the first we've heard of it," league spokesman Brian McCarthy said, declining to comment further.

It was a somewhat surprising turn for a commission that in recent years has aggressively pursued an NFL deal, with some members regularly attending Super Bowls and owners meetings.

The future of the Coliseum is an especially significant issue now because the commission, whose 50-year lease agreement with the state recently expired, is poised to begin new contract negotiations. USC leases the stadium from the commission, and that two-year agreement ends after the 2007 football season.

In the commission's traditional monthly meeting Wednesday, Chadwick introduced the concept of entering into a "master lease" with USC, which would effectively transfer the day-to-day operations of the stadium to the university, much like the agreement the commission has been negotiating with the NFL. Chadwick said he discussed a similar idea with USC President Steven B. Sample a few years ago.

"I think we should revisit it," Chadwick said, "and I think we should revisit it aggressively."

Todd Dickey, a USC senior vice president, said the school would be "very interested" in a long-term lease agreement because "we're going to be playing there 100 years from now."

The Coliseum Commission, the joint state-county-city body that manages the state-owned facility, annually pays $80,000 to the state as rent for the Coliseum and the adjacent Sports Arena. That cost might rise dramatically under a new lease. The commission, in turn, rents the stadium to USC, its biggest tenant, and other teams. The current lease caps USC's rent per game at the Coliseum at 8% of gross ticket revenue based on a maximum of 70,000 tickets sold.

Under a master-lease agreement, USC would become the landlord and set the terms, dates and rent for every other event at the stadium.

Coliseum officials, in hopes of landing an NFL deal, have signed only short-term agreements in recent years to make a potential transfer to the league as clean as possible. If stadium officials were to engage in any long-term business relationships, it would clearly demonstrate they have moved on.

"We have to send a message to the league that if we don't get some sort of affirmative progress out of the October meeting, we may have to go in another direction," Israel said. "We just can't wait indefinitely."

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