Inglewood Mayor Butts Slams Azoff MSG Entertainment Lawsuit

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Mayor James Butts speaks onstage during the press conference where Pepe Aguilar donates dozens of musical instruments to Children of Promise Preparatory Academy at The Forumon October 11, 2016 in Inglewood, Calif.

The fight over a proposed Clippers arena near the Forum gets nasty with both sides accusing the other of dirty tricks and deception.

The relationship between Irving Azoff and Inglewood Mayor James Butts has hit a low point. On Tuesday (April 10), Butts sharply criticized Forum-owner Azoff MSG Entertainment for filing a lawsuit against the city and the two-term mayor, seeking to stop the Los Angeles Clippers from building a basketball and concert arena 1.5 miles from the popular venue.

"If this was high school, maybe we would worry if everyone was going to get along but we’re adults here. This is business,” Butts told Billboard following a press conference at Inglewood City Hall where Inglewood attorney Skip Miller called Azoff’s lawsuit a “scam” and alleged it contained multiple misrepresentations.

In its suit, Azoff MSG Entertainment officials say they were tricked into giving up a parking lot they had leased from the city, but Butts disputes that claim. Instead, according to Butts, Azoff MSG Entertainment gave up the land to settle a dispute between Azoff MSG Entertainment and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who is building a $2.6 billion stadium on a site adjacent to the Forum. Azoff MSG Entertainment had worked out a deal with Kroenke to use some of his land for overflow parking at a rate of $25,000 per event.

“The problem is they didn’t pay the bill,” Miller explained. “They ran up a bill of $325,000 due, owing and unpaid and the Kroenke people said ‘that’s it’ and locked them out.” 

As the dispute between Kroenke and Azoff MSG Entertainment worsened, Butts intervened and brokered a deal between the two with Azoff MSG Entertainment agreeing to end its lease of a city-owned parking lot in exchange for the right to use the Kroenke land for free and allow the Forum to keep the parking revenue it generated from the lot. Azoff allegedly sent Butts an email on Jan. 27, 2017, according to a document in the lawsuit, writing “Congrats Mayor. Way to hang in there” after previously complaining that MSG Chairman James Dolan had “teed off on” him over the parking dispute. MSG officials then wired Kroenke the outstanding money they owed him, according to Butts, and the city began negotiations with the Clippers for the land it had just taken back from the Forum.

“Madison Square Garden is going around Inglewood, hiring operatives and saying it’s going to ‘take down’ Mayor Butts,” according to the city’s response to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Madison Square Garden has employed people to put out the ‘word’ that if it cannot beat Mayor Butts at the ballot box, Madison Square Garden will tarnish his reputation -- all because of a proposed Clippers’ new arena,” and later compared “the dirty tricks campaign” to Watergate “where the tricksters ended up being prosecuted and going to prison."

Forum officials tell a different story, saying they were pressured into handing back the land so that Butts could build a technology park on the old parking lot. In March, attorneys for the Forum filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming Butts tricked MSG into giving up the lease of the city-owned parking lot and then tried to cover his tracks by negotiating with a personal email address and private cell phone.

“The comments made today by Mayor Butts and the city’s outside attorney at their press conference support the fundamental allegations,” in the Forum’s lawsuit, officials with the arena told Billboard in a statement today. “Mayor Butts relied on deception and fraud to make the city’s agreement with the Clippers possible, and the city clearly violated its contractual commitments to the Forum. We will continue to energetically defend the Forum and the many benefits it provides to Inglewood."

On Tuesday, Butts pushed back on those claims, saying Azoff MSG Entertainment filed the suit because it doesn’t want competition for its arena and that MSG officials “cooked up the parking claim,” arguing “nobody remotely misled MSG.” Miller said Forum officials willingly ended their lease for the city-owned parking lot for the land proposed for a Clippers arena because it was too far of a walk from the Forum to be effective.

He also said that the city has the right to negotiate with whomever it wants and would not let MSG or any company "determine the level of prosperity available to the residents of Inglewood."

“The Forum is the number one concert venue in the state of California,” Butts said. “We’re proud of the Forum, but we’re not proud of what they’ve done."