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USC signs historic lease agreement with LA Coliseum

USC President C. L. Max Nikias signs the agreement as Don Knabe and Fabian Wesson look on. (USC Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

On Sept. 5, officials from the city, county and state met for the ceremonial signing of USC’s new lease agreement with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The governing board of the California Science Center on Sept. 4 unanimously approved the last outstanding items of a lease agreement for the Coliseum. The board had approved the main outline of the deal on June 25, clearing the way for USC to operate and restore the historic landmark.

The agreement ensures that the Coliseum will remain the home of Trojan football for 98 years. The deal also guarantees a restored public stadium for all Angelenos, as USC has committed to make at least $70 million in renovations. USC will also manage the operations of the Sports Arena in Exposition Park.

The following are the remarks made at the ceremony:

FABIAN WESSON, chair of the California Science Center Board of Directors for the state of California:

Good morning. On behalf of the state of California and the California Science Center Board of Directors, thank you for joining us in today’s celebration.

We stand in front of the peristyle of the Memorial Coliseum, where we once again mark a historic moment.

Our journey to this point started no less than two years ago. But through great focus, team efforts, collaboration and partnership, we have arrived.

Today we are joined by USC President Max Nikias and Supervisor Don Knabe to turn the pages of the past and engage a new partnership with the University of Southern California in restoring this historical monument and ensuring its place in history for the next 100 years. And it does so while at the same time respecting and supporting the importance of the California Science Center, the California African American Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Expo Center. In addition, this agreement assures that Expo Park will remain a community asset that provides recreation to thousands of kids and their families.

Compromise and partnership are not always easy to achieve and our process was long, hard and at times very arduous, but through our common goal and united effort of protecting the future of this park, we prevailed.

I would like to particularly thank Dana Williamson in the governor’s office; our board’s negotiating team, Irene Romero and Renata Simril; all the park stakeholders; our legal teams; and, of course, Todd Dickey and Kristina Raspe from USC.

Thank you for the time, effort and success in getting this complicated transaction done with unanimous support.

C. L. MAX NIKIAS, president of USC:

Good morning, everyone. I want to thank you for joining us for this special ceremony.

There are several people that I would like to recognize, including Gov. Jerry Brown and representatives from his office, including Cabinet Secretary Dana Williamson; Supervisor Don Knabe and the other members of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission; John Sandbrook, general manager of the Coliseum; and Fabian Wesson and the California Science Center’s Board of Directors, and two members of their negotiating team, Irene Romero and Renata Simril.

Without the hard work of everyone I just mentioned, this day would not have been possible.

I also want to thank Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price for their support and for being here with us today.

For 90 years, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has been a treasure to our community, to the city of Los Angeles and to our nation. We are very fortunate that USC has been its most loyal and dedicated tenant from the very beginning of its existence. No other venue in the entire world has hosted two Olympics, two Super Bowls and one World Series.

Now, thanks to the cooperation and the collaboration of the people here today, we are delighted to officially sign the paperwork that will extend our shared history for nearly another century. Throughout USC’s enduring connection to the Coliseum, we have been committed to making it a source of pride not only for the present moment, but also for generations far into the future.

For several decades, we have also worked very hard to ensure that this neighborhood maintains a special character, and that the cultural treasures of Exposition Park enrich the lives of people throughout this city. In this way, the Coliseum and its immediate neighbors have become assets not just for the local community, but also for all of Los Angeles. I think all of us admire the Coliseum for what it represents today, and yet we can also envision what it can become in the years ahead.

We look forward to restoring and upgrading the Coliseum to its former glory. As you all know, in the summer of 2015, we will host the Special Olympics right here in the Coliseum. And, as a city, we should all work to bring the Summer Olympics back to the Coliseum again. We also welcome educational partnerships that will attract more students and families to Exposition Park, and we will ensure that the Coliseum will stand proudly in the heart of Los Angeles in the 21st century.

Ladies and gentlemen, if the great John Ferraro was with us today, this is what he would have said: “USC not only will do the job, it will do it with great honor.”

Thank you, and Fight On!

DON KNABE, president of the Coliseum Commission and supervisor for the fourth district of Los Angeles County:

My colleagues on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission and I are very pleased that, after nearly two years of discussions and negotiations and after numerous public meetings and input from the public, all of the agreements between the University of Southern California, the Coliseum Commission and the Board of Directors of Exposition Park/California Science Center are now approved.

The approval actions on Sept. 4 by the Board of Directors, under the leadership of Board Chair Fabian Wesson, now will allow one of the most iconic structures in Los Angeles — the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — to be upgraded and maintained during its upcoming centennial decade that begins this fall — and for decades thereafter — under the direct stewardship of the one organization that has been its sole continuous tenant since its opening in 1923 — USC.

The Coliseum Commission made its decision to transfer management responsibilities of the Coliseum and Sports Arena to USC for many reasons. But, first and foremost, the Coliseum will now benefit from two commitments made by USC President Max Nikias and the USC Board of Trustees:

  • To invest approximately $70 million plus of USC funding into the Coliseum for repairs and enhancements before the centennial celebration of the Coliseum in 2021-23.
  • And even more importantly, to provide annual funding from USC resources as needed to maintain the Coliseum’s physical condition at all times for the remainder of the university’s lease with the commission (through Dec. 31, 2054) at the same standard used on the University Park Campus.

The Coliseum is owned by the public, but it is important to note that, under the terms of the Joint Powers Authority Agreement between the state, the county and the city of L.A., no public tax funds will be used to support the operations of the Coliseum and Sports Arena.

As the number of events at the Coliseum and Sports Arena — other than USC games — have decreased in the past 15 years due to the increased availability of other venues and due to other economic considerations, the financial challenges in operating and maintaining the Coliseum and Sports Arena have been obvious and the current condition of the building is evident.

In addition to the collaborative efforts of Fabian Wesson and the other members of the Board of Directors, my colleagues and I are grateful for the support provided by the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown through Cabinet secretaries Anna Caballero and John Laird, by State Sen. Rod Wright and Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer on behalf of the Legislative Black Caucus, by State Sen. Kevin de León, chair of the State Senate Appropriations Committee, and by the many civic leaders and hundreds of members of the general public who came forward to voice their views during the many public sessions held by the Coliseum Commission and by the Board of Directors.

My colleagues and I are particularly pleased that, as called for in the Coliseum Commission’s agreement with USC, the university has completed its negotiations with the Board of Directors to ensure that the other important activities and operations in Exposition Park, including three state and county museums, the Expo Center, and the playfields and park areas along Vermont Avenue will be enhanced by USC’s operation of the Coliseum.

The Coliseum Commission has faced several other challenges in the past several years and its work in resolving those challenges is continuing.  The Coliseum Commission — as the public agency representing the tripartite interests of the state, the county and the city — will continue to exist and oversee USC’s operations. However, the commission will now be recommending to the state, the county and the city that the membership structure of the commission be modified and reduced beginning in 2014.

We look forward to having the Opening Ceremonies of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in the Coliseum two summers from now, and we hope that this renaissance of the Coliseum under USC leadership will also bolster the pending proposal of Los Angeles to the U.S. Olympic Committee to serve as the U.S. candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

I want to thank USC for its commitment to our local community. On behalf of my colleagues, we look forward to the preservation and improvement of this iconic building for generations of Southern Californians to enjoy.

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