Clippers buy Forum for $400 million, clearing way for new arena construction

Andrew Greif
LA Times

Steve Ballmer finally has an arena in Inglewood as part of a deal that paves the way for the Clippers’ billionaire owner to construct a second in the location — the building he has wanted all along.

In a move that removes an opponent that has long sought to block the construction of a new Clippers arena nearby, Ballmer has agreed to purchase the Forum from Madison Square Garden Co. for $400 million in cash, the team announced Tuesday, with plans to continue operating the former home of the Lakers and Kings as an 11,000-seat concert venue.

The purchase is expected to close during the 2020 second quarter through a new, Ballmer-backed entity called CAPSS LLC, and resolves all litigation with MSG, whose executive chairman is New York Knicks owner James Dolan.

The Clippers’ privately funded, billion-dollar arena would sit less than two miles from the Forum on West Century Boulevard as part of a larger Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Complex that would house team offices, a practice facility and public outdoor spaces. The Clippers have played at Staples Center since 1999, along with the Lakers and Kings, but became unhappy with their status as the building’s third tenant.

MSG spearheaded three lawsuits to block the arena project and accused Inglewood’s mayor, James T. Butts, of persuading the company to give up land for a supposed technology park that later became part of the Clippers’ arena proposal. A community group whose legal fees are being paid by MSG also has one pending suit and another it is appealing. Murphy’s Bowl LLC, the Clippers-controlled company developing the new arena, countersued MSG last year.

“We are looking forward to putting the legal issues behind us,” the Clippers said in a statement. “This will allow us to focus on delivering world-class experiences for music fans and building a new arena that will provide a unique environment and a true home court advantage for Clippers fans.”

The legal back-and-forth was costing both MSG and Murphy’s Bowl LLC millions of dollars in legal fees each month, a person not authorized to speak publicly said earlier this month. The cost appeared to do little to dissuade Ballmer, the wealthiest owner of a professional sports team in North America, from his intended plan. In October, he said of MSG’s opposition: “I’m not sure they understand what they’ve gotten themselves into, from my perspective.”

Ballmer proposed committing $100 million in benefits toward Inglewood in September. From there, the Clippers’ project won procedural victories from the Federal Aviation Administration in October and a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge in November. Gov. Gavin Newsom then certified the project in December to shield it from extended environmental litigation. The two sides have been at the negotiating table discussing the Forum since at least early February.

“This is the best resolution for all parties involved and we wish the new owners every success,” MSG said in a statement.

CAPSS LLC will take over operations of the Forum either in late June or early July, when the deal becomes final. It has no plans to tear down the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. All current Forum employees will receive employment offers from the new ownership, the team said.

Hurdles remain for the construction of the Clippers arena. The Inglewood City Council has yet to certify the project’s environmental impact review, which was released in December. That is expected to take place this summer and would open a 270-day window for legal challenges to be adjudicated, a process that could end only a few months before construction is set to begin in mid-2021.

The Clippers' lease at Staples Center ends in 2024. The Clippers’ plan calls for their proposed arena to be opened in time for the 2024-25 NBA season.

“This is an unprecedented time, but we believe in our collective future,” Ballmer said in a statement. “We are committed to our investment in the city of Inglewood, which will be good for the community, the Clippers, and our fans.”

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