SBJ/July 30-August 5, 2012/Colleges

USC to hire architect for Coliseum refurb plan

The University of Southern California is seeking a major overhaul to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and internal discussions concern premium-seat concepts that could extend project costs to $300 million over the next several years, according to industry sources.

The Pac-12 school plans to hire an architect over the next two months tied to a master plan for improving the 89-year-old stadium, said Kristina Raspe, Southern Cal’s vice president of real estate development and asset management and its point person for Coliseum upgrades.

The school will take over stadium operations this fall under the terms of a lease it signed in May with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, the Coliseum’s landlord. The state must approve some final details before the school can officially take over the facility, including a deal between the state and Southern Cal that would take effect after the existing lease expires in 2054, Raspe said.

The master plan will address a stadium with no suites that has fallen far behind the premium amenities offered at other Pac-12 stadiums. School officials have had preliminary talks with architects and builders about what could be done to bring the Coliseum up to par. Sources said those discussions have included constructing a club level with new club seats and loge boxes and that initial costs would run $200 million to $300 million.

Those plans will come into greater focus after Southern Cal hires a sports designer to help the school better understand the costs and revenue tied to those projects, Raspe said. The school has prequalified a half-dozen architects that will be issued the proposal in the coming weeks.

As part of its agreement to take over stadium operations, Southern Cal has committed to spending $70 million in repairs and upgrades that the commission had promised years ago but was unable to deliver on because of a lack of funding.

“We have to do $70 million … but it wouldn’t surprise me if we exceeded that number,” Raspe said. “Luxury amenities are something we are definitely considering, given the fact that the Coliseum is a historic landmark.”

Southern Cal must be careful in its plans. Dramatic changes to the building — home of the first Super Bowl, the 1959 World Series and two Olympic Games — could endanger its status as a National Historic Landmark.

“People love that building. It’s kind of like Fenway Park,” said Joe Diesko, a vice president with HNTB and designer of Galen Center, USC’s basketball arena.

The Coliseum would not, however, be the first college football stadium to undergo a facelift while protecting its landmark status. Ohio State, Illinois and California, where California Memorial Stadium reopens Sept. 1 after a $321 million rehab, all have stadiums as registered landmarks that have gone through major renovations.

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