Huffpost Los Angeles
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mark Ridley-Thomas Headshot

No More Time Outs for the Coliseum Commission

Posted: Updated:

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum's future now hangs in a kind of sudden-death overtime.

The nine-member Coliseum Commission is in breach of its contract with the University of Southern California. Despite struggling mightily to do so, the commission can't find a way to pay for more than $60 million of facility repairs and upgrades it owes to USC.

That puts USC in the driver's seat, with two options: the university can terminate its lease with the Coliseum Commission or finance the millions in stadium improvements at a 6-percent interest rate.

The Coliseum Commission can't afford either outcome.

If USC terminates its lease, the Coliseum would lose most of its revenue and attendance in a single stroke. Even if USC were to loan the Commission money for the improvements, the stadium does not bring in enough to make such large payments.

The Commission has missed three deadlines since 2010 to come up with a plan to honor the USC contract, and USC has generously given the Coliseum Commission another grace period.

The commission has used all of its time-outs.

With no better option on the table, the majority of Coliseum Commission members appear ready to turn over day-to-day management of the facility to USC.

In exchange for management control, USC will have to invest heavily in improving the facility. USC has offered to do so before. As recently as 2008, the university had said it would invest $100 million in the Coliseum.

The Coliseum at that time rejected USC's offer, mistakenly thinking it could pay for stadium improvements by selling naming rights or landing an NFL team.

Now, a deal with USC is the only option on the table that can restore the Coliseum to a condition worthy of its standing as the home of two Olympics, a National Historic Place and, most important, a memorial to soldiers who fought for our nation.

USC has also stated it will never again compromise the Coliseum's dignity by staging a "rave" like 2010's Electric Daisy Carnival, which came at a price of dozens of arrests, hundreds of medical emergencies and the death of a teenager.

Some critics portray USC as an exclusive institution for the privileged that would "privatize" the Coliseum at the expense of the neighboring community.

As a Coliseum Commissioner who has also represented USC's neighborhoods for 20 years, as a City Councilman, State legislator and now County Supervisor, I find such stereotyping of USC to be as distorted and harmful as the stereotypes that some perpetuate about South Los Angeles.

USC has not given up on its neighborhood, even when others, including the NFL, have done so. Rather, it has invested millions into the neighborhood, doing more than any other institution to beautify and enhance its landscape. The university has been a springboard for the advancement of people of color, many from the surrounding area. In fact, the composition of USC's administration, faculty and student body has long been more diverse than the Coliseum's staff.

While vaguely invoking "the community" to oppose USC's involvement, the same opponents have presented no specific alternative. They concoct a problem while offering no solutions.

Both the immediate community and Los Angeles as a whole deserve a world-class venue. USC is the only institution showing the interest and ability to make that happen.

A new lease with USC will be an important step forward, but true reform requires more be done.

More than the new facilities management that USC would provide, the Coliseum needs an entirely new ownership and management model.

The Coliseum Commission is now structurally incapable of fulfilling its mission. The nine-member commission is composed of three representatives each from the city, county and state.

Equal representation may have been the intention, but the result has been the indecision and excessive compromise endemic to management by committee. The tripartite structure too often pits competing interests against common ones.

One prospect worth examining would be to see if any of the current government partners -- the city, county or state -- can find a way to solely administer the Coliseum. Los Angeles County has a strong track record in managing the Hollywood Bowl and the County museums, including the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park. The county might very well have the experience and financial stability to take custody of the Coliseum.

Earlier this year I asked the County Counsel of Los Angeles for guidance on the legal mechanism for dissolving the Coliseum Commission. The most straightforward way to disband the commission would be a mutual agreement by the city, county and state.

Of the three parties, the state has previously expressed interest in shedding its obligations to the Coliseum and Exposition Park and would thus not likely want to increase its stake in the Coliseum. The city would not likely want to add the expense of the Coliseum to its current shaky balance sheet.

The county may be the only governmental partner solvent or sturdy enough to take the reins of the Coliseum. I'm willing to consider other options, as well. But I have no doubt the Coliseum Commission is no longer able to handle today's demands for overseeing a major sports venue. The commission needs to vote itself out of existence.

The best the Coliseum Commission can now do for the public is to let go.

Los Angeles County Supevisor Mark Ridley-Thomas represents the Second District, which includes the Coliseum, USC and Exposition Park.