Lead Story West Edition

Inglewood counters Forum’s legal action

INGLEWOOD — The legal fight between the city of Inglewood and the owners of the Forum took another twist this week when the city issued a statement calling the Forum’s suit against the city a “sham” that is “without legal basis.”

“Madison Square Garden does not want competition in Inglewood for its concert arena — the Forum — and so concocted this lawsuit,” a statement issued April 9 by the city of Inglewood said. “Madison Square Garden relies on a contract provision that it knows has no applicability here and makes allegations against Mayor [James] Butts that are maliciously false.

“By its lawsuit, Madison Square Garden is trying to block the Clippers’ move and construction of the arena, to impede competition and stifle the economic growth of Inglewood. Madison Square Garden is acting out of spite for self-serving purposes.”

The statement was part of a legal response to a suit filed by the Forum and its owners, Madison Square Gardens, against the city March 5 that accused the city of reneging on a leasing deal that would allow the Forum to have the option to buy the 15-acre parcel on the corner of Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard the city now hopes will house the Clippers’ new arena.

According to the city, Inglewood and MSG entered into a seven-year parking lease (at $200,000 per year) in 2013 that would allow the Forum to use the space for overflow parking. The city contends that agreement ended in April 2017 after the Forum obtained parking space for free from the Kroenke Group.

That allegedly took place after Butts interceded to resolve a financial dispute between the payment arrangement set up by MSG and the Kroenke Group. The city statement claims that MSG was locked out of the permitted parking spaces due to an overdue payment of $325,000.

Shortly after that agreement was terminated, the city and the Clippers entered into an agreement to explore ways to build a new state-of-the-art basketball arena in June 2017.

Butts and the city of Inglewood believe that MSG and the Forum have no substantial claim to the property at Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard.

“Madison Square Garden did not seek, and did not obtain, the right to block another arena from being built in Inglewood,” the city’s court papers say. “Madison Square Garden is simply trying to create a contractual right that does not exist. There is nothing in the agreements or any other documents anywhere prohibiting another concert arena in Inglewood.”

In its lawsuit filed March 5, MSG claims “the city’s actions violated the lease between the city and Forum, the development agreement between the Forum and the city, and fundamental principles of good faith and fair dealing as required by California law.”

Madison Square Garden contends the city engaged in secret talks with the Clippers about a possible new arena “using the very same land MSG Forum had leased for parking.”

MSG officials say the city’s negotiations to build a competitive arena violate terms of the Forum’s contracts with Inglewood that bar the city from taking any actions that would cause “a material adverse impact on the use, operations, functionality or economic competitiveness of the Forum.”

At the time that suit was filed, Butts responded by saying “we disagree on the city’s right to self-determination and the scope of that right.”

“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. I still believe that we will be able to come together and find an amicable resolution.”

“I’ve worked hard to assist the Forum in every way,” Butts said this week. “The Forum is the number one concert venue in the state of California and number two in the country in booked events. We’re proud of the Forum, but we’re not proud of what they’ve done here.”

Officials with the Forum issued a statement in response to the comments by Butts and Miller, saying they “support the fundamental allegations in our complaint.”

“Mayor Butts relied on deception and fraud to make the city’s agreement with the Clippers possible, and the city clearly violated its contractual commitments to the Forum,” the statement said. “We will continue to energetically defend the Forum and the many benefits it provides to Inglewood.”

Inglewood attorney Skip Miller said this week the city plans to defend the lawsuit vigorously.

“I look forward to our day in court,” Miller said. “Normally a defendant doesn’t say that, but I’m saying it here. Bring it on.”

City News Service also contributed to this story.