University to negotiate for master lease

The Coliseum Commission has agreed to enter into negotiations with USC to grant the university a master lease, potentially giving USC complete managerial and operational control over the Coliseum.

The commission, a nine-member council in charge of the historic landmark, met Wednesday to discuss the possibility of negotiating the stadium’s ownership. A unanimous agreement to begin talking with USC was reached during the meeting’s closed session. If all goes well, a final deal between the commission and the university is expected to be reached within 90 days.

“We are pleased that the Coliseum Commission has voted to enter into negotiations with USC,” said Thomas Sayles, vice president for University Relations, in a statement. “We hope that through these negotiations the parties can agree upon a long term lease that allows the Coliseum to be restored to its former glory and ensures its viability for many generations to come.”

USC has wanted to gain control of the Coliseum for years, and its last bid for ownership was in 2007. Then, it offered to make $100 million in renovations in exchange for the master lease. The commission declined, and instead promised to pay for $50 million in renovations by end of the month. The commission has been unable to keep its promise.

Athletic Director Pat Haden said last week that he’d be glad to see USC ownership of the stadium.

“If it ever happens, then we would welcome the opportunity and try to create a venue that our fans would really appreciate,” Haden said. “It would be a wonderful venue for our students, alumni and fans to watch our football team play.”

Bernard Parks, a member of the commission and the councilman representing the district including USC, expressed doubt last week that the commission and the university would enter negotiations this soon, but the commission’s inability to pay for the stadium’s renovations played a role in Wednesday’s decision.

Parks has long been the one dissenting vote against USC’s request for ownership, but Wednesday he finally agreed to begin a discussion over private ownership of the Coliseum. Parks had previously advocated maintaining public control of the Coliseum and trying to bring in additional tenants to grow the stadium’s revenue. Specifically, he wanted to see the Coliseum play host to an NFL team, which he contended would be good for the stadium and the city.

Owning the Coliseum means USC could veto any attempt to bring an NFL team there. USC has said, however, that it would be willing to come to an agreement if Los Angeles is presented with an NFL team.

“We are open to discussions on a mutually beneficial arrangement,” Sayles said in a press release. “Under our current lease, we have the right to approve any other team playing football in the Coliseum during our season … If we were to receive a proposal, we would review it.”

The Coliseum is an 88-year-old historic landmark that has hosted two Olympic games and two Super Bowls.

“As a loyal and dedicated tenant of over 80 years, we want to return the Coliseum to its former glory and be the caretaker it deserves for future generations,” Sayles said. “To that end, we have believed for some time that having a master lease would be in the best long-term interests of the community and the university.”

More specific legal and financial details will be discussed before the commission’s next meeting Dec. 7.