An enhanced Google map of the area that The Forum occupies in Inglewood, Calif., and where a proposed Clippers arena would go.
Madison Square Garden, owner of The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., has followed through on a threat to file a lawsuit to stop the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena that the city of Inglewood approved last June.
At the time, MSG claimed it was blindsided by the deal, which would see the NBA team move from Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to a state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar facility just blocks from The Forum.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month, after a lawyer for MSG said all other options had been exhausted.
“Six months later they are still refusing to give us a piece of paper and still refusing to follow up on any requests for information and still pretending that nothing is wrong,” said Marvin Putnam of Latham & Watkins, the legal firm representing The Forum. “In fact, they are even refusing to accept our service. We have been trying to serve at city hall and the city attorney’s office and they refuse to accept it.”
“This is like 1950s back alley politics,” Putnam said. “It would be unbelievable except it’s actually happening.”
Notable, said Putnam, is the fact that “when we heard the Clippers were looking to leave Staples Center, we went to (Mayor James Butts Jr.) and discussed an opportunity for Inglewood to secure the team.”
“What we didn’t know was that the mayor immediately went into secret negotiations with the team behind out back,” Putnam said, echoing allegations in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit names the city of Inglewood, the redevelopment entity and the parking authority. It also names the mayor and the City Council individually.
“The mayor was crucial to our agreement and then he was the leader of the 'fraud' in which the others participated,” Putnam said. “The mayor was playing two games, both sides, and we now see that the mayor needed to ensure that his games didn’t overlap and no one found out he was double-crossing us.”
Butts’ position is that the issue is one of the city's right to self-determination and the scope of that right.
“We disagree with The Forum on this issue,” the mayor wrote in an email to VenuesNow. “We also disagree that there has been a breach of any agreement with MSG. 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.”
“The City of Inglewood continues to cherish its relationship with The Madison Square Garden Company and Live Nation,” wrote the mayor. “Working together, we have seen the Forum become one of the top concert venues in the country.”
Butts stressed that he’s dealt with MSG in an honest and collaborative manner and still hopes “that we will be able to come together and find an amicable resolution.”
To that end, the city of Inglewood does not discussing pending litigation, Butts said.
MSG invested more than $100 million in 2014 when it renovated the facility, turning the former home of Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and Sparks into a performance-only venue.
The relationship between The Forum and Inglewood crumbled after Butts and four City Council members entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Murphy’s Bowl LLC, an entity representing the Clippers, on June 15, to construct a new home for the team in the city.
Just weeks earlier, Putman said, the mayor asked The Forum owners to relinquish rights to several overflow parking areas, which The Forum contractually had the lease to occupy, for a “technology park that was crucial to the city of Inglewood to build a Silicon Beach,” allegations repeated in the lawsuit. Because of Inglewood's position regarding pending litigation, it did not respond to specific accusations in the suit.
Putnam believes that The Forum’s position is solid. “We have an agreement with them, it’s a 30- year deal, and we were asked to invest over $100 million dollars into Inglewood.” The city gets a percentage of every ticket sold in the venue.
“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but it came with an understanding ” said Putnam. “We were entitled to a period of time to benefit from the investment. Putting a competitor literally across the street, who we would have to compete with for shows, is not in that deal.”
The rights to the land for the proposed Clippers arena were firmly in The Forum’s control, with provisions for its eventual purchase, Putman said. “We had the right to have a say in what would go there,” he said.
The next step in the case will be discovery. “If the city and the Clippers proceed, they proceed at their peril,” said Putnam, who anticipates it taking years before the matter is resolved.