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L.A. Coliseum's value an issue in budget arena

A L.A. County supervisor says some estimates of the stadium's value are way over the top.

May 15, 2009|Sam Farmer

For sale?

For shame.

That, in essence, was the message the Coliseum's top official sent to Sacramento on Thursday in a news conference that blasted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to sell the historic stadium to raise cash amid the state's growing fiscal crisis.

"Whoever made the decision to throw this on the table five days before an election made a boneheaded decision," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, president of the Coliseum Commission. "People are not as foolish as some politicians think they are."

Yaroslavsky argued the Coliseum is both priceless and of exaggerated worth -- priceless as a national historic landmark, yet wildly overvalued by some politicians. For instance, Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) estimates the Coliseum and neighboring Exposition Park properties are worth $400 million.

"If anybody thinks that you're going to get $250 million or $400 million for this property, guess again," Yaroslavsky said. "I've got some beachfront property in Nebraska I'd like to interest you in."

Both Yaroslavsky and Coliseum General Manager Pat Lynch, who joined him at the news conference, made reference to a $16-million estimate for the stadium land, an appraisal made in 2001 by an independent real estate firm.

Clearly, however, the commission must place a higher value than that on the stadium. Why else would it have rejected a $100-million offer from USC to upgrade the Coliseum in exchange for control of the venue?

The state owns the land on which the Coliseum and Sports Arena sit (as well as the parking), and rents the venues to the commission for $1 million per year. The commission, in turn, rents the stadium -- which is owned in equal parts by the city, county and state -- to USC for roughly 8% of football ticket sales.

That the state doesn't own the Coliseum outright makes a potential sale even more complicated, and perhaps impossible.

"If you have three partners in a business and one decides to get out, the other two can continue on," said Lynch. "So unless the city, county and state all agree to disband -- or at least two of the three agree to disband -- it's a moot point."

That said, if the state is successful in putting the Coliseum on the market, USC could be a buyer. A USC official told The Times on Wednesday that the university would have to consider purchasing the Coliseum for the right price, provided that were the only way to ensure the stadium would be improved and maintained.

Asked about the possibility of USC's buying the stadium, Yaroslavsky said: "I don't think USC has any interest in buying it. . . . There's no reason for them to acquire this facility, and there's no reason for us to turn it over to them."

However, should all the complex issues be resolved, and USC were to buy the Coliseum, that could create other interesting possibilities. The NFL, which for years has been frustrated in its dealings with the various governmental bodies involved with the Coliseum, might be willing to return to the bargaining table if negotiating with a single owner.

As a sidelight, a potential USC-NFL pairing might have its own interesting complications, considering that Ed Roski, chairman of the school's board of trustees, is hoping to build his own stadium in the City of Industry to attract an NFL team.

In signing a long-term lease with the Coliseum Commission a year ago, USC agreed to allow the commission to use its name and logos to sell naming rights to the stadium, provided the money generated would be used to upgrade the venue. Various commission members expected such a deal to produce $6 million to $8 million a year.

A year later, there is no naming-rights deal in place, and the prospects for one that lucrative are bleak. That's the case all over, as NFL teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants and Jets also have yet to strike deals to name their soon-to-be-completed stadiums.

The clock is ticking at the Coliseum, because USC has a remedy if the commission does not stay on its schedule of promised improvements. Starting in 2010, if the renovation is not on track, the school can either opt out of the 25-year lease or pay for the upgrades itself and be repaid with interest.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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