Dolan vs. Ballmer: L.A. Forum owner sues Inglewood over new Clipper building

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Steve Ballmer wants to get his Los Angeles Clippers out of the dominating shadow of the Lakers. The Clippers play in the Staples Center, a building built thanks to the Kobe/Shaq era Lakers that has become synonymous with purple and gold. The Clippers can cover up the Lakers’ championship banners with images of their players, it still doesn’t change the perception in Los Angles and around the nation.

So owner Ballmer wants to build a new arena to house his Clippers, in Inglewood — just a couple blocks from The Forum where the Showtime Lakers played.

Problem is the Forum is owned by — and was not long ago completely renovated by — the Madison Square Garden company. MSG is owned by Knicks owner James Dolan. The Forum has become a popular concert and event destination in the city again, and MSG does not want competition in the form of a shiny new building a couple of blocks away. It contracts with the city was supposed to keep direct competition nearby away.

That has led to MSG suing the City of Inglewood over alleged secret negotiations. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN doubled as a court reporter on this one.

The owner of the Inglewood Forum filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court on Monday against the City of Inglewood and its mayor, James T. Butts, alleging that they held secret negotiations with the LA Clippers about building a new arena adjacent to the Forum and the site of the Los Angeles Rams’ future home.

The Forum has been owned and operated by Madison Square Garden since 2011. The company invested some $100 million in redeveloping the property in cooperation with the city, with a contractual agreement that the city would not attempt to attract another concert venue that would damage the Forum’s core business.

The suit alleges that Inglewood and its mayor breached their contract with the Forum when it entered into secret negotiations with the Clippers regarding 15 acres of property — which had been leased by the Forum for overflow parking — in January 2017.

The Clippers and Inglewood are moving fast down the path to build on those 15 acres. The city has already released the Environmental Impact Report on the proposed Clippers, and votes for its approval are coming soon. MSG says in the suit it was told the city was going to build an office part there, not a direct competitor to its business. MSG has also tried to stoke local opposition to the project from residents (there are always grassroots groups opposed to development in Southern California, some with legitimate complaints and some just NIMBY issues).

The lawsuit is not Dolan vs. Ballmer directly, but their business interests collide on this one. We’ll see how messy it gets.