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Coliseum agreement with USC approved

north hagerby Eddie North-Hager
The new agreement ensures that the Coliseum will remain the home of Trojan football for years to come. (Photo/Dan Avila)
Photo: The new agreement ensures that the Coliseum will remain the home of Trojan football for years to come. (Photo/Dan Avila)

In a room packed with USC and community supporters, the governing board of the California Science Center on June 25 unanimously approved the final part of a lease agreement for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, clearing the way for USC to operate and restore the historic landmark.

“This agreement is the result of well-considered give and take on all sides, which ultimately results in a win-win that the Coliseum will be restored and preserved for future generations,” said Thomas S. Sayles, USC senior vice president of University Relations. “We look forward to working with all of the Exposition Park partners and constituents.”

The board approved the transaction after hearing additional public testimony and hearing the comments of Exposition Park’s world-class museums — the California Science Center, the Natural History Museum and the California African American Museum — regarding parking on the relatively few days when events are held in the Coliseum or the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

“This is the beginning of a 100-year partnership with USC,” Renata Simril, a member of the governing board, said shortly before the vote.

The agreement ensures that the Coliseum will remain the home of Trojan football for many years to come. The deal also guarantees a restored public stadium for all Angelenos as USC committed to make at least $70 million in renovations. USC will also manage the operations of the Sports Arena in Exposition Park.

USC was only 43 years old when the Coliseum opened in 1923. The Trojans played their first football game in the venue that fall and have called the Coliseum home ever since.

“This vote will allow for the Coliseum to be saved and enhanced for the people of Los Angeles, all at the cost of a private nonprofit university,” said Todd Dickey, USC senior vice president of University Administration.

It was a standing-room-only meeting at the California Science Center as parents from local schools and directors of local organizations noted USC’s positive impact on the neighborhoods around Exposition Park through programs such as the Family of Schools, the Joint Educational Project and Kid Watch. USC invests $32 million annually in dozens of community programs, including the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a college-preparatory program that this year sent 57 graduates to four-year colleges, including USC and West Point.

At the meeting, dozens testified about their first memories of the Coliseum, from the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics to USC football games dating back to the 1950s.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe told the board that renovations were “desperately needed” for the Coliseum to remain one of Los Angeles’ most treasured icons.

“This is a neighborhood deal,” Knabe said. “USC is a neighbor. They’re not going anyplace so they want to be a good neighbor. It’s good for the citizens of our county.”

Steve Soboroff, a senior adviser to the California Science Center, urged the board to approve the deal.

The deal “is close to perfect,” Soboroff said. “This deal is good for the park, the city, the region and the museums. I’m glad USC was willing to listen.”

In a letter read during the public hearing, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas PhD ’89 stated that after 40 meetings with stakeholders and four public meetings, the agreement represented “a victory for all of Los Angeles for generations to come.”

“USC has not given up on its neighborhood, even when others, including the NFL have done so,” Ridley-Thomas wrote. “[USC] has invested millions into the neighborhood. The university has been a springboard for the advancement of thousands of people, many from this community.”

USC supporter Ramona Cappello recalled how her family would drive from Bakersfield to attend USC football games and visit the museums before kickoff when she was a child.

“The Coliseum is an icon and a treasure for so many,” Cappello said during public comment. “USC has proven they are a great neighbor. … I can’t wait to see what will happen if USC is allowed to extend its special touch to this monument.”