December 17th, 2007

USC gives some ground on Coliseum

By Sam Farmer and Gary Klein
Los Angeles Times

The university says it doesn't have to run the stadium, and offers some concessions in a naming-rights deal -- as long as the money would go toward renovating the Coliseum.

USC has backed off its proposal to run the Coliseum, provided the stadium’s landlord takes responsibility for making significant improvements to the venue.

In a counterproposal issued by the school today, one to be detailed at an afternoon news conference, school officials have suggested a five-year plan for the Coliseum Commission to significantly upgrade the 84-year-old venue.

“It’s been our home for over 80 years,” said Todd Dickey, USC senior vice president and general counsel. “We have all our tradition and history in that facility, and it’s where our fans want to stay. It’s an important part of our culture, so it’s by far our first choice.”

Another unresolved issue is the annual rent that the commission pays to the state, which owns the Coliseum. Both sides met this afternoon and were expected to come to an agreement on deal terms, a source familiar with the discussions said. But those terms will have to be approved by all the representatives from both parties, the commission and state.

The commission is expected to meet as early as Wednesday this week to discuss both the lease it has with the state and USC’s counterproposal.

Frustrated by the lack of progress on a long-term lease, USC has been pursuing a two-year deal to play at the Rose Bowl, beginning next fall. Those talks will continue, Dickey said, until a deal with the commission is completed.

“We move forward concurrently,” he said in a phone interview. “We had discussions with UCLA last week and will continue to have discussions with them.”

The nine-member commission, composed of representatives from the city, county and state, issued a proposal last week in which it agreed to give the school veto rights on any deal with the NFL. That is a significant concession.

The school has budged on a major sticking point, too. It will allow the commission to pay for a stadium overhaul—one that would cost in the neighborhood of $50 million—by allowing the use of USC’s logos in a stadium naming-rights deal.

“In the interest of getting a deal done we have ... agreed to allow the commission to do a naming-rights deal and cooperate with the commission to get a single, prime naming-rights sponsor to name the Coliseum and put together a package,” Dickey said. “As long as the money that was raised from that will go toward improving the Coliseum, based on the list of improvements that we feel are necessary and the specific deadlines by which they must be done.”

The latest proposal by the school outlines a specific timetable for the improvements to be made. If the commission is unable to follow through, the agreement would revert to a master lease that would give the school control of the stadium.

“At the end of the day, if we get an improved Coliseum, we, and the rest of Los Angeles are better off for it,” said Kristina Raspe, USC associate senior vice president of real estate and asset management. “But if they are unable to do it, then we want the opportunity to do it. Because in the end, nobody wins if the Coliseum is left to deteriorate.”

Dickey said there is also a possibility the school could have representation on the commission.

“The commission has indicated they are in favor of that, and their proposal agreed to work toward that goal,” he said. “We’ve been in communication with state representatives and they want to work toward that goal. All the stars are aligned to make that happen.”

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