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Commission fires back at USC

Group says school's latest proposal that enforces deadlines on upgrades to Coliseum 'is grossly inequitable and unfair to the taxpayers.'

December 20, 2007|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

The stalemate between USC and the Coliseum Commission took another public turn on Wednesday night when the nine commissioners emerged from a special meeting with a four-page letter to the university.

The letter voiced numerous concerns about USC's latest proposal for a long-term lease that would keep the Trojans football team at the venue.

Although financial issues were addressed, the commissioners emphasized their belief that USC wants control of the historic stadium.

"It's not only about money," Coliseum General Manager Pat Lynch said. "It's about everything."

As the latest volley in a public relations struggle, the letter was also sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The one thing it did not include was a reply to USC's latest offer.

"This letter is clearly intended more for grandstanding than for responding with a meaningful proposal," said Todd Dickey, USC senior vice president and general counsel.

Commissioners hope to draft a counteroffer soon, perhaps by the end of the week.

Negotiations began months ago when university administrators offered to make $100 million in renovations as part of a master lease giving them control of the Coliseum, booking events year-round and keeping the revenue to offset costs.

Commissioners balked at handing over a publicly controlled venue that stands on state property. They also argued that USC would be paying $100 million for a stadium that could generate $7 billion over the next 50 years.

Earlier this week, USC appeared to back off the control issue with a revised offer.

This time, the university agreed to a standard lease so long as the commission promised to make $50 million in upgrades. But the proposal also stated that if the commission failed to meet renovation deadlines, USC would take control.

"Our goal is to improve the Coliseum," said Kristina Raspe, a USC associate senior vice president of real estate and asset management.

"If they can't do it, we do want a master lease."

On Wednesday, the commissioners responded by characterizing the deadlines as unrealistic, "designed to create the same outcome, an outcome that is grossly inequitable and unfair to the taxpayers."

The USC proposal not only asked the commission to pay for upgrades, it also called for several changes -- including a split in concessions -- that would in effect reduce USC's annual rent by $403,000, the commission said.

Lynch compared the situation to a landlord who fixes up an apartment, then lowers the rent.

The commission's letter made a point of mentioning that USC football generates approximately $62 million annually.

That includes $22 million from ticket sales, $21 million from donations, approximately $9.3 million from television, radio and other media deals, $7.8 million from advertising and $1.2 million from on-campus parking on game days, the commission said.

USC disputed those figures and argued that donations and advertising revenue do not involve the stadium.

Raspe said the university was not looking to make money on the deal.

"We're more than willing to agree that every dollar raised at the Coliseum would go back into the Coliseum," she said. "The university is a nonprofit corporation and does not intend to use the Coliseum as a profit center."

david.wharton@latimes.com

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