As expected, the Coliseum Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved terms for a lease agreement with USC that would fund a massive facelift for the aging Coliseum and could ensure that the Trojans would continue to call the stadium home for another half century.
But in keeping with the tenor of the past two months of negotiations, the deal was not done without drama.
Before the nine-member Commission went into closed session to vote on the 22-page agreement, a representative from a private investment group which had been secretly meeting with Coliseum officials for more than six months about pouring $800 million into the Coliseum in exchange for taking over operations of the facility, beseeched the commission not to give USC the right to squash any deal with the NFL.
"To unilaterally give USC the right of refusal puts perhaps an insurmountable burden on us," said Chris Melvin, a consultant representing United States Capital, LLC., an investment firm headed by Leonard Bloom, a former owner of the WHA's Los Angeles Sharks and the ABA's San Diego Conquistadors.
While Coliseum commissioners praised the concept that U.S. Capital developed - the stadium would be a triple-decked horseshoe, but the exterior of the two additional decks would resemble the Roman Colosseum - they were left grasping for answers to financing questions and how realistic the group's projections were for attendance and number of events.
"These are the most beautiful renderings I've ever seen," said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
"But where's the beef? How does it pencil out?"
Melvin and a colleague struggled to answer such a rudimentary question as what type of events they planned to hold in the Coliseum. (Wrestling was the answer). Nor could they answer how the deal could work without an NFL team, how many events would they hold and did they expect to have the approximately $5 million per year the state gets from parking revenue?
"C'mon," said an exasperated commissioner David Israel. "You're walking in here and throwing a grenade in the room."
The disclosure of the discussions clearly took USC officials by surprise.
After huddling, USC vice president Todd Dickey said he had no problem with the Coliseum discussing the proposal, but said the removal of USC's right to veto an NFL team at the Coliseum would have been "a deal breaker."
Ultimately, it wasn't. The commission spent little time in their two-hour closed session debating the private proposal and most of it going over language in the agreement, which was finalized at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
They also approved a rental agreement with the state.
The USC deal, which must be converted into a long-form document within 60 days, calls for the Coliseum to finance major improvements over the next decade at the Coliseum - seating, scoreboards, concessions, restrooms - that officials now estimate will cost close to $100 million.
USC will continue to pay rent that is eight percent of ticket sales - about $1.6 million this year - and USC will increase its share of expenses. The Coliseum will continue to retain parking revenues, except for 355 spaces it gives the university at no charge.
The improvements are to be paid for with naming rights, which consultants have told the Coliseum could fetch about $5 million per year.
"We have a laundry list of projects," said Coliseum general manager Pat Lynch said. "We have to have a game plan of how we're going to finance them." To assure completion of the renovationsAs assurance that the renovations, which the Coliseum has put off for 10 years while its pursued an NFL tenant for more than a decade, get done, USC can terminate the lease or take over the project if financing isn't secured by June 30, 2010.
Most agreed USC, however, would come up with the money.
But there were few on either side who expressed any doubt that the Coliseum would be able to come up with the money. After threatening two months ago to head to the Rose Bowl if it couldn't work out a deal for improvements at the Coliseum, it was a decidedly different mood at the stadium on Wednesday.
Under the peristyle, the commissioners posed for a signing ceremony with Dickey, USC athletic director Mike Garrett and even coach Pete Carroll. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered their congratulations, and the USC band played in the background.
"It's a great day for the Trojan family," said Carroll, who wasn't the least bit bothered that the locker rooms may not be renovated for close to 10 years. "We love playing here. This is part of USC football. To keep this together is awesome."