The California Science Center board voted unanimously today to approve a lease turning over control of the L.A. Coliseum to USC. The deal paves the way for the university to invest more than $70 million to spruce up its aging football facility over the next decade.
The board voted 7-0 to approve the 99-year lease, which has been debated for nearly two years.
USC has been complaining about the deteriorating Coliseum for decades. But the stadium's landlord, the L.A. Coliseum Commission -- a public body with representation from the city, county and state -- has not been able to come up with the money to pay for improvements.
For many years, the Commission hung its hopes on the return of the NFL. But after teasing Coliseum officials for years, the NFL finally passed on the chance to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to bring the stadium up to the standards of professional football. Tthe Coliseum Commission then tried to make a deal to sell the stadium's naming rights. But that deal also went nowhere.
With the Coliseum Commission a shambles and unable to pay for renovations required under USC's existing 25-year lease, interim general manager John Sandbrook was left with few options but to negotiate a handover to USC.
Commissioner Bernard Parks has long been the most outspoken opponent of leasing the stadium to USC, arguing that the deal shortchanges the community and that it was wrong to turn a public asset over to a private university. But without access to tax dollars or other revenues, the Commission was unable to live up to its promises to fix up the locker rooms, the seats, the bathrooms and other amenities.
Some representatives of the California Science Center and the surrounding museums also expressed concerns about the impact of the lease agreement on parking for their patrons.
"In the end, it boiled down to a fight between 'SC and the state over parking," said Supervisor Don Knabe, president of the Coliseum Commission.
In the end, those issues were ironed out.
Of the lease, Knabe said, "It was the right thing to do. It's been a long time coming. ... I think it's gonna be a major improvement to the area."
Parks' chief of staff, Bernard Parks Jr., declined to comment to the Weekly.
The Coliseum Commission will continue to exist. It is expected to shrink, however, from nine members to three and it will meet less frequently, since it will no longer be responsible for day-to-day management of the stadium.