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Forum owners at odds with Inglewood over Clippers deal

INGLEWOOD — The Los Angeles Clippers want out of Staples Center. The Clippers and owner Steve Ballmer believe they have found a new home in Inglewood.

That home is just a stone’s throw away from where the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will be playing in a state-of-the-art football stadium on Sundays, beginning in 2020.

Ballmer and the Clippers even went into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city of Inglewood in June to drive home the point.

But there have been a couple of hiccups to the Clippers and Inglewood’s partnership.

First, the Clippers are on the hook with a lease agreement to play in Staples Center through 2024.

The second problem is that Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the Forum, is crying foul. The company is taking issue with the agreement between the city and the Clippers and it seems like things may get nastier before they get better.

Madison Square Garden Co., which reportedly poured more than $100 million into renovating the Forum, recently took a step that could mean a lawsuit against the city of Inglewood by claiming that Mayor James T. Butts and city officials tricked them into giving back a parcel of land that rightly belonged to them.

The Madison Square Garden Co. also is accusing the Inglewood City Council of violating the Brown Act, a state law that spells out how local governments conduct their business, among other things.

“We disagree on the city’s right to self-determination and the scope of that right,” Butts said in response to news last week that the Madison Square Garden Co. had filed a claim against the city. A claim is usually a precursor to a lawsuit.

“The Inglewood City Council’s first responsibility is to its residents and their quality of life while ensuring continued progress, opportunities for employment and improved public safety,” Butts said in his statement. “In the end, I believe that we will be able to come together and find an amicable resolution. In the meantime, life goes on unabated for both the Forum and the city of Inglewood.”

At a special City Council meeting July 21, the council again approved the exclusive negotiating agreement with the Clippers on an 18,000- to 20,000-seat arena. The arena will not only house the Clippers, but feature concerts and other entertainment activities as well, which is what angers the people who run the Forum.

The Forum, which re-opened in January 2014 after renovations and being operated by different entities after the Lakers and Kings moved to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, seats a maximum 17,800 seats.

The 20-acre site where the city and the Clippers want to place the new arena is located at Yukon Avenue and Century Boulevard.

The Forum sits on the corner of Prairie Ave and Manchester Boulevard. The agreement calls for a negotiating period of three years between Inglewood officials and the Clippers. The arena will be privately funded with no public dollars going toward the project, according to a statement by the Clippers.

Madison Square Gardens officials have filed a damages claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — alleging that Butts used a bait-and-switch strategy to coerce Forum executives into clearing way for the proposed new Clippers arena.

They say Butts persuaded them to give up their leasehold in April on part of a parking lot to make way for a new business-technology park.

Instead, the City Council in June announced their deal with Ballmer.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’” Marvin Putnam, a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the damage claim, told the Daily Breeze.

“They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

When Madison Square Garden Co. relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract states the land would not be used for anything that would hurt Forum business.

“We, along with the hundreds of hard-working men and women who work to bring top-flight entertainment events to the Forum, are stunned that the city is moving forward with a plan that is in direct conflict with its existing and clear-cut written commitments to our venue,” Forum officials said in a statement.

Butts said he is confident the city can resolve its differences with the owners of the Forum but he did not directly address the allegations of a bait-and-switch raised by Forum officials.

 

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