Board approves new lease terms unanimously
The California Science Center Board of Directors unanimously approved a term sheet to give USC control of the lease through the end of 2111 after several meetings plagued with debate over control of parking lots.
The primary difference between the approved terms and previous ones is that the university will make less money from parking spaces. The Exposition Park manager will work with USC to coordinate events and parking for events.
The approved lease stipulates that on game days, at least 600 spaces be reserved for museums visitors, that the Science Center receive at least $25 per space sold and that buses must be allowed to drop off museum patrons until three hours before a large event. The board of directors estimated that, under the previous agreement, the Exposition Park Improvement Fund that benefits from such parking payments would see revenue drop between $80,000 and $200,000 annually.
More than 100 people attended the meeting, with the crowd spilling out of the Loker Conference Center at one point. Many, especially community members affiliated with the USC Family of Schools, supported the new terms.
Some voiced discontent with the negotiated terms, including Pastor Leroy Sheppard of the Son Shine Bible Church on Century Boulevard and Western Avenue, who said the agreement does not benefit tax payers, and President of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce Armen Ross. Some said the addition of the space shuttle Endeavor at the Science Center had brought more people to the museum, which meant it required more parking spaces in return.
The Board did not convene a closed session to discuss public comments before voting. Board member Billie Greer stressed the openness of the deliberations.
“Through rational and reasonable discussion … we have an agreement that meets the needs of all the museums,” Greer said. “This is important. These museums are treasures of the state, of the nation and of the world.”
Representatives of the university, the governor’s office and the museums in and around Exposition Park negotiated the terms and met more than two dozen times since March. The approved term sheet amends three contracts negotiated and released in December 2012: a nondisturbance agreement, a Coliseum lease option and a sports arena lease option.
Under the terms, USC assumes all of the Coliseum Commission’s financial obligations to the Science Center under the existing leases for the Coliseum and arena. USC will pay at least $51 million to the Science Center by 2054, and the rent can be adjusted to reflect changes in property value in 2055 if USC renews the lease, because USC plans to add about $100 million in renovations by then.
Some language from the university and those representing the museum’s interests pointed to the contentiousness over the lease agreement.
Last week, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden sent a statement through the USC Trojan athletics website urging fans to attend the meeting.
“We believe we have reached a reasonable deal that benefits all parties involved,” Haden wrote. “Despite what you may have read in the Los Angeles Times or heard from misinformed members of the public, this deal does not in any way hurt the museums in Exposition Park and in fact helps solve major financial problems looming over the Science Center should the deal not be approved.”
James R. Gilson, vice president and general counsel for the Natural History Museum, emphasized that hard work and communication will be required of all parties to see the agreement through.
Tom Sayles, USC’s senior vice president of university relations, appeared somewhat dour, but said he was pleased with the negotiations overall.
“Because of the transparent and open process, we were able to hear out all parties and we ended up with an agreement that was fair to all,” Sayles said. “We had a collaborative process.”