Lead Story Sports West Edition

MSG claims deception, fraud in suit against Inglewood

INGLEWOOD — The dirt is flying already. A week before Inglewood is scheduled to hold a public scope hearing for a proposed new basketball arena that would house the Los Angeles Clippers, the company that owns the Forum filed a lawsuit against the city and Mayor James T. Butts for allegedly breaching a contractual development agreement between the two parties.

Madison Square Garden (MSG), which owns the Forum, filed the suit claiming that the city of Inglewood, Butts and the Inglewood City Council defrauded and deceived them out of the lease to a 15-acre site the city held. MSG alleges that Butts and the city played them to get access to that land so that they could negotiate in secret with the Clippers about the new arena to be built on Century Boulevard and Prairie Avenue.

The Clippers are in a current lease with Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles through June 2024. According to documents, the suit alleges that Butts tricked the Forum into giving up its rights to the parcel of land.

“The Forum has been a proud member of Inglewood’s fabric since it first opened its doors 50 years ago and we have nothing but respect and affection for our home community,” said Marvin Putnam of Latham & Watkins LLP, counsel for the Forum’s owner. “Unfortunately, the shocking and outrageous conduct of the mayor, city officials and others have forced us to seek accountability in the courts in order to protect the Forum.”

Butts and his alleged actions are at the heart of the lawsuit.

Butts allegedly operated in deception to get land back from the Forum over usage for an alleged “technology park,” according to the suit. In consequential turn, Butts was allegedly able to negotiate in secret about the proposed deal with the Clippers to build a basketball arena on the site where the Forum originally held rights to. Through a released statement, Butts struck a conciliatory tone on the matter.

“The city of Inglewood continues to cherish its relationship with the Madison Square Garden Company and Live Nation,” Butts said. “Working together, we have seen the Forum become one of the top concert venues in the country. 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. To that end, the city of Inglewood has a policy of not discussing pending litigation because ultimately that is for the court to decide, but I do want to say that life goes on unabated for both the Forum and the city of Inglewood.”

In 2012, MSG spent $23.5 million to buy the Forum. The lease it signed with the city mandated that the owners spend another $50 million in renovations while kicking in $600,000 annually in revenue to Inglewood for 30 years.

The lawsuit cites city documents indicating that the proposed Clippers arena could host 100 to 150 “family shows, concerts, conventions and corporate events each year.”

“This competing arena would be located less than a mile and a half from the Forum property on Prairie Avenue — in bird’s eye view from the Forum’s famed balcony and across the street from the Hollywood Park property and Hollywood Park Casino,” the lawsuit states.

Last year, the Forum, through Madison Square Garden, shared its concern with the city. That concern was purportedly dismissed, according to documents. Now the legal fight is on.

Inglewood is slated to have a public scope meeting take place on March 12 at the Inglewood City Hall Community Room.

“We are surprised and saddened that Mayor (James) Butts and the city of Inglewood have taken dead aim at the Forum through their orchestrated scheme,” Putnam said. “On behalf of community members, music fans and Forum employees, we are committed to energetically defend this beloved Inglewood institution.”