Irvine leaders are moving forward on building a new, publicly funded 14,000-seat Great Park Amphitheater estimated to cost roughly $130 million to build, with a majority of money slated to come from city coffers – for now.
Tuesday’s City Council vote came after heated discussion that saw Mayor Farrah Khan openly accuse city staff of skewing their report against the city’s business partner Live Nation, which could run the publicly built amphitheater.
But there are still some outstanding questions over what the future amphitheater will look like and what benefits it will bring to the city as officials are slated to continue negotiating with Live Nation.
Irvine is set to invest around $114 million for the construction of the facility, with Live Nation expected to put $20 million toward the facility’s construction.
In exchange for running the amphitheater, Live Nation is set to pay the city $3.5 million annually, a cost that will increase by 3% annually.
Just using that payment, the city won’t break even on the proposed initial investment until the venue has been open for over 20 years.
Under the current proposal, Live Nation is set to keep all of the amphitheater’s sponsorship and naming rights, along with all revenue from VIP parking.
Councilman Larry Agran heavily criticized the proposal.
“They must take us for chumps,” Agrain said Tuesday night. “I don’t know what hold Live Nation has over my colleagues … but why we would want to be giving these kinds of terms even the slightest consideration is beyond me.”
Despite the approval to continue negotiations, most of the council balked at Live Nation’s suggestions, with Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder calling the deal “lopsided.”
“I can’t possibly advocate going forward even if this is a long standing starting point,” Treseder said. “If I do that and sell out the residents of Irvine I should be recalled.”
Treseder joined Agran as the two votes against moving forward with Live Nation.
Councilman Mike Carroll, who voted to continue negotiations with Live Nation, said he “wouldn’t sign what’s being discussed with a gun to my head.”
“I wouldn’t say this is a capitulation to any of the redlines,” Carroll said. “We continue negotiation.”
Discussions about opening a new music venue in the Great Park have been ongoing since last September, but Tuesday’s public council meeting highlighted an increasingly dysfunctional negotiation between the city and Live Nation.
Live Nation staff and Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi repeatedly disagreed on where the contract negotiations stood publicly, going back and forth on different points, with Chi describing the current negotiations as a “stalemate.”
“I don’t think we’re at a stalemate. We’re negotiating,” said Live Nation Southern California President Bret Gallagher at the council meeting.
“I think even you’d agree, through the last two and a half months there’s been no movement,” Chi said in response.
Concerns around the venue’s potential cost to the city, Live Nation’s limited investment, noise pollution and traffic dominated most of the council’s six-hour discussion, which ended with the council narrowly voting 3-2 to continue negotiations with Live Nation for a better deal.
In addition to the negotiations with Live Nation, city staff also suggested looking at opening a theater that would seat less than 8,000 people and could be operated by the city itself, but the council voted down two proposals to look at a smaller venue.
Khan and Carroll both encouraged staff to keep negotiating, with Carroll saying they were only in the “sixth inning,” of negotiations.
“Let’s negotiate until we get to where we want, and if we don’t get there, then we’ll come back and reconsider. But we’ve got to go through the process,” Khan said. “I think we can get there.”
Agran, one of the proponents behind a smaller amphitheater, called on the city to pump the brakes and begin looking at all the concerns residents had with the deal.
“I think we have a divided council, a divided community,” Agran said. “Absent the folks from Live Nation, nobody, including our staff, can possibly get up to speed on all of this stuff … it requires some further thought.”
Councilwoman Tammy Kim suggested a middle ground, aiming at building an 8,000 seat amphitheater with Live Nation, but her motion was ultimately shot down, and she voted to continue negotiations for the larger proposal with Live Nation.
Khan also brought up concerns that city staff were actively working against the Live Nation deal, claiming their report didn’t have enough facts.
“Even in the staff report it seems like it’s already biased,” Khan said. “I read through the entire report, and you know what I can tell you, it doesn’t match up.”
“I don’t think the staff report is biased. I think the evidence suggests that a better choice is an amphitheater with a smaller footprint,” Agran said.
Most speakers at the meeting were in favor of the larger amphitheater, with spokespeople from Live Nation, various unions and residents from across the county talking about how much they wanted an amphitheater that could rival the old Irvine Meadows venue.
Some residents from both the Great Park and the broader city brought up concerns with the noise, traffic and potential costs to the city, questioning how much money the city would make from the deal for a large amphitheater.
There’s been no information from the city on how much potential tax revenue the new amphitheater would generate, but Live Nation claims the existing FivePoint Amphitheater generated around $1.9 million in state and local tax revenues last year.
But it’s unclear how much of that tax revenue went to city coffers.
While the 12,000-seat FivePoint Amphitheater already exists in the park, it was set up to be a temporary venue and would be replaced by the new amphitheater.
The contract for the ampitheater’s construction will have to come back in front of the city council again, but a precise date on that remains unclear.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.