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Coliseum set to offer long-term lease to USC

Closed session yields document that may help end impasse between school and its long-time football home.

December 13, 2007|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

In an effort to keep USC from moving its home football games to Pasadena, the Coliseum Commission is expected to deliver a long-term lease proposal to university administrators this morning.

The document, crafted during a special closed-door meeting Wednesday evening, represents a potential step forward in the long and sometimes acrimonious negotiations between the commissioners and the school that has played in their stadium since 1923.

Frustrated by a lack of progress, USC had threatened to switch to the Rose Bowl next season.

While no details of the Coliseum's proposal were released, Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks, also a commissioner, called the effort "very productive. We'll see at some point what the response is."

USC reacted with cautious optimism, but a big question remains: Will the commission's offer give the university the control it desires?

This year, university administrators offered to spend $100 million on renovations in return for a master lease that would allow them to operate the aging stadium, booking events year-round and keeping the revenue to offset their costs.

The commissioners have been reluctant to hand the private university a historic landmark that sits on state-owned land and is jointly operated by the city of Los Angeles, the county and the state.

This transfer of power would essentially render the commission obsolete.

There might be a middle ground. Along with its master lease proposal, USC previously offered to sign a long-term agreement if the commission promised to pay for renovations and keep USC as the only football tenant, thereby excluding the addition of an NFL franchise.

"We are trying to reach a compromise," Commissioner Bill Chadwick said before Wednesday's meeting. "We're trying to go 50% of the way, if not more."

At the very least, the new proposal is a long-awaited official response to USC's earlier offers.

The commission was spurred to action after USC recently went public with the threat to move to the Rose Bowl. Angry fans flooded the Coliseum office with complaints and at least one commissioner received death threats.

UCLA, which currently plays in the Rose Bowl, would have to agree to share the Pasadena stadium. It would be an ironic twist, a public university helping USC in its negotiations with state and local commissioners.

Some regarded USC's actions as a bluff, but the university brought a proposal to the Rose Bowl Operating Co. last week.

Rose Bowl officials declined to offer a lease, instead recommending that USC first try to resolve its differences with the Coliseum.

Commission members hoped that today's counterproposal will jump start negotiations.

"We turned around a document in a week," Chadwick said. "That shows a sense of urgency."

david.wharton@latimes.com

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