An amphitheater under the control of any one promoter will not be coming to the Irvine Great park any time soon after city council members narrowly voted to stop negotiating with promoter Live Nation and look at other options.
For a majority of the council members, it boiled down to having more control over the proposed taxpayer financed venue and making sure the city gets a return on its investment.
Under a new proposal from Councilmembers Larry Agran and Kathleen Treseder, city staff will come back with a plan to set up an 8-10,000 seat amphitheater that would let any promoter schedule time at the facility, which would be managed by an independent third party hired by the city.
The deal proposed by Live Nation was repeatedly criticized by council members, city staff and residents as being a bad deal for taxpayers, with nearly every Irvine resident who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting calling for city officials to kill the proposed agreement with Live Nation.
“We would be engaged in gross malpractice as public policy makers to be approving this contract tonight,” Agran said. “I am enthusiastic about the idea of an amphitheater in the Great Park … we just have to not rush into some crazy decision here.”
The details of the new deal from Live Nation were published Friday night without any input or review by city staff, leaving residents with little time to review the 75-page contract that would determine the future look of the Great Park’s biggest attraction.
Live Nation’s proposal would have cost the city as much as $110 million for a 14,000 seat amphitheater and another $40 million for the parking lots surrounding it.
Irvine would’ve also handed over nearly all control over amphitheater operations to Live Nation – from parking to musical bookings – and most of the revenue streams along with it.
Live Nation would have contributed $20 to $30 million into the construction, and managed the facility for an additional $3.5 million rent fee that increases by 3% each year, along with maintenance fees on each ticket and a city fee on each ticket sold.
However, the city would have received no revenue from parking, sponsorship rights, or any other money outside their annual rent payments and other fees on tickets at the facility.
It would’ve taken between 20 and 30 years before Irvine broke even on that investment.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, both City Manager Oliver Chi and City Attorney Jeff Melching said there were revisions the city asked for that Live Nation left out of the agreement, and that while it had some positives, there were many negative aspects for the city.
“There are some benefits, but the city has lost a bit of control in terms of how the facility would be operated,” Chi said.
That was a deal three council members said they just couldn’t get behind, who also brought up concerns that Live Nation had too much control over what acts could or couldn’t come.
“The key to the city having a world class amphitheater is ensuring there’s an independent, third party operator that manages the calendar,” said Councilwoman Tammy Kim, who’s been one of the primary people negotiating with Live Nation.
In an interview on Tuesday morning, Kim said while she had nothing against Live Nation, the model of moving forward with one promoter running a venue just didn’t work for her.
“They are in the business of maximizing revenue, and that’s what they’re doing,” Kim said. “I’m not blaming them for that, but I have to look at it from our taxpayer’s perspective … it’s important we capture as much of the revenue sources as possible for ourselves.”
Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder also found multiple issues in the contract with how much access the city would have to the amphitheater, getting into repeated arguments with Live Nation lobbyist Patrick Strader from the dais.
“If (Strader)’s not reporting accurately what’s in the contract right now, I don’t know if he can say we’ll go back and negotiate it,” Treseder said after bringing up some concerns with Strader’s interpretation of the contract in terms of charging for parking and other revenue.
Strader answered shortly after.
“It was hard to break into that series of red herrings you were throwing out, that was truly amazing,” Strader said. “Almost complete misstatements of everything.”
Over the next few minutes, their argument continued, with city staff supporting Treseder’s interpretations of the contract.
“The gap here is between what the contract says and what Mr. Strader says the party is going to do, which are different things,” Melching said.
Strader also said city council members should ignore the public commenters from Irvine – nearly all of whom opposed the Live Nation stadium – to instead go under a poll commissioned by Live Nation that found over 80% of Irvine residents supported an amphitheater.
“This isn’t about people who show up to meetings,” Strader said, before adding “Well, counting 29 people in the room is much more scientific than a poll.”
Strader has been negotiating on Live Nation’s behalf since May, but said he’s not being paid for his work as a lobbyist and has not filed any disclosures with the city for his work.
“I was very intimately involved in approving the temporary amphitheater through a temporary use permit,” Strader said in an interview on Tuesday morning, adding that he’d helped the company on and off for years at the FivePoint amphitheater and “has not been paid by Live Nation for his work in mediating the discussion.”
But Kim said that it was “always my impression,” that he’d been hired to work for the company when asked by Voice of OC.
“He helped coordinate a lot of the meetings,” Kim said. “He was the conduit in terms of making sure I was connected with whoever I needed to talk to regarding promotions, international distribution, tours, whatever.”
Live Nation has been negotiating with the city since last year, and reached an impasse with city staff in February, at which point Councilmembers Kim and Mike Carroll took over much of the negotiating.
According to Kim, Carroll largely bowed out of the negotiations months ago, saying he was happy with the deal.
“Mike ended negotiations a long time ago,” Kim said. “Because he was already fine with the terms, he felt his participation was unnecessary … he just wants to get this over with.”
Carroll did not respond to requests for comment on the issue on Tuesday morning.
While Live Nation would still have the opportunity to book concerts at the new venue, it remains unclear if they will, with Kim saying they suggested – behind closed doors – they wouldn’t come unless they controlled the venue.
“That was absolutely discussed by Live Nation, in that they simply won’t throw acts our way,” Kim said.
Live Nation did not respond to a request for comment on that issue on Tuesday afternoon.
Carroll and Mayor Farrah Khan voted against going with a third party operator, with Khan being the only one to provide her concerns.
“Who pays for this third party operator? Do we know what that cost is? Will they hire staff, stage hands etc? Will they provide marketing?” Khan said. “I don’t think we’re ready to make any decision today if we don’t have the answers.”
“I can answer some of these questions,” Kim said.
“I don’t need answers,” Khan said. “Thank you.”
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.
Since you’ve made it this far,
You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.