USC to operate, restore Coliseum

LOS ANGELES -- After years of public and private negotiations, USC finally has control over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next century.

The final hurdle was cleared Wednesday when the California Science Center gave final approval to a deal that not only grants the university control over the publicly owned Coliseum but also the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and nearly all of its revenue.

In June, the governing board of the California Science Center unanimously approved the final part of a lease agreement for the Coliseum, paving the way for USC to operate and restore the historic landmark. USC took over the operations of the Coliseum and Sports Arena in Exposition Park in July.

The agreement ensures that the Coliseum will remain the home of USC football for 98 years. The deal also commits the university to spend up to $100 million on improvements to the Coliseum.

USC has wanted to gain control of the Coliseum for years and has been in position to do so since the Coliseum Commission acknowledged two years ago that it would be unable to keep its promise to USC to make $50 million in improvements to the 90-year-old facility. USC had previously offered to pay $100 million to renovate the Coliseum in exchange for the master lease, but the commission rejected it, believing a naming rights deal for the Coliseum would net just as much, if not more.

The economy, however, crashed soon after, and with it went a couple of naming rights deals the commission was working on.

"We get to control our own destiny [at the Coliseum], which we didn't before," USC athletic director Pat Haden told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "But we are going to have to pay for the renovations that were supposed to be paid for by somebody else. So in some ways, it's like picking up somebody else's responsibility, but we do finally have control."

USC officials say they will begin plans in the coming years to return the Coliseum to the condition that made it the home of two Olympic Games and two Super Bowls. The deal calls for USC to pay the state $1 million in annual rent. That figure will rise to $1.3 million in 2016 and will be adjusted for inflation after that.

The university also takes over control of the Sports Arena and has already looked into tearing down the 54-year-old facility and developing a 22,000-seat soccer stadium that could house a Major League Soccer team.

USC is developing plans for the Coliseum and Sports Arena that Haden said will take about two years to come together.

"You won't notice a lot this year because we just got control of it," Haden said. "There will be a few cosmetic things. The food will be better and easier to purchase, and it will be cleaner. Over the next year or so, we've got to develop a plan and a fundraising plan for what it's going to look like, but I don't think anything major is going to be taking place for another two years."