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The Daily News of Los Angeles

 

The owners of The Forum have filed a lawsuit alleging Inglewood Mayor James Butts tricked the company into giving up land now being offered to the Los Angeles Clippers for a competing arena.

The Madison Square Garden Co. claims the company agreed to terminate a parking lease at Butts' request so the city could use the properties for a business-technology center. Attorneys for the company say they learned later city officials had been in negotiations with the Clippers for months.

"We were very purposely, and fraudulently cut out of conversations that ultimately we had every right to be a part of," said Marvin Putnam, an attorney representing MSG. "We would have had a seat at the table. Instead, we were told there was no table, no chairs, nothing."

The lawsuit filed Monday alleges Butts pressured MSG executives to end their lease early because he had a tenant for the technology park "on the hook." As part of the arrangement, MSG also gave up the right to purchase the land for $6.9 million.

The termination agreement states the sites could not be used for anything that would hurt the Forum's business, according to the lawsuit.

"Had MSG Forum known of Mayor Butts' and the City's true intentions and their secret negotiations with the Clippers, it never would have entered into the Lease Termination Agreement," Putnam wrote in the lawsuit.

In a statement, Butts said the city "continues to cherish its relationship with The Madison Square Garden Company" and that he believes the two sides "will be able to come together and find an amicable resolution."

"We disagree on the city's right to self-determination and the scope of that right," Butts said. "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.

He would not discuss the situation further because of the litigation.

In June 2017, city officials approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer for an 18,000-to-20,000 seat arena on the site about a 1 1/2 miles away from The Forum. The deal gives the two parties three years to negotiate for the new arena proposed for the corner of Century Boulevard and Yukon Avenue.

"The LA Clippers are committed to a fully transparent, publicly reviewed project that will bring thousands of new jobs and massive economic benefits to the City of Inglewood and its residents," said Christopher Meany, a project manager for the arena, in a statement. "MSG has been threatening a lawsuit for months and, while we only just received a copy, it appears there are no new issues that weren't previously made and dismissed by the City of Inglewood."

The Clippers' lease with Staples Center, which is shared with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, is up in 2024.

The lawsuit states MSG's development agreement — which resulted in a $100 million investment in the venue — requires the city to get the Forum's consent before engaging in any action that would negatively affect its business. MSG is alleging Inglewood breached the development and termination agreements by moving forward with the negotiations for a competing arena.

Only two other arenas in the Los Angeles area — The Honda Center in Anaheim and the Staples Center in Los Angeles — are comparable in size to the Forum. A third, less than two miles away, would put "tremendous strain" on The Forum's ability to book events and concerts, the lawsuit states.

"They're looking to build something that is exactly like us that you can quite literally see from the balcony," Putnam said.

MSG is asking for a court injunction that would stop the deal and restore the parking lease.

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March 8, 2018
 
 
 

 

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