Eagles to perform at venue's christening

The Eagles will christen L.A.’s newest theater next week, and if its owners have their way, every major awards show will be using the venue before long.

Philip Anschutz’s AEG will take the keys from the contractor Friday to downtown’s Nokia Theater, which the live entertainment company envisions as the home to 80-100 concerts per year and the epicenter of kudofests.

The first venue to open within AEG’s three-phase, 100-acre L.A. Live campus, the $120 million Nokia Theater is being positioned by AEG as “the new Radio City Music Hall.” The 7,100-seater opens Oct. 18 with a six-night stand featuring the Eagles and Dixie Chicks.

Venue will host the American Music Awards in mid-November, and discussions are ongoing with the Recording Academy about how to use the building and its courtyard during February’s Grammy ceremony, which takes place in Staples Center and has used the Convention Center for its pre-telecast the past two years.

“We want every major event to come to Los Angeles — our competition is New York,” said Tim Leiweke, prexy-CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group. “We never want to see the Grammys return to New York. We want the Emmys. We want the NFL to move its draft here.”

AEG, which owns and operates the adjacent Staples Center and has privately raised the $2 billion needed to finance L.A. Live, has a list of 20 events it would like to attract, including the Emmys. Because of production demands — a week of setup is often required — the building is unlikely to be home for more than 10. The Academy Awards are not on that list; the Motion Picture Academy has a long-term contract with the Kodak Theater, though there are outs as in any other contract. AEG’s list does not include any other movie-oriented kudofests.

AEG, which has put nearly 30 shows on sale, is eager for the Nokia to become known as the most technologically advanced concert venue in the city, with its sights set on acts that would otherwise go to the Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City or the Shrine Auditorium.

For concerts “we make no bones about it — Gibson is our key competitor,” Leiweke said. “But if in five years we’re in a tug of war with the Gibson, something is wrong. Once the hotels, restaurants and clubs are open, this will be marketed as one campus.”

L.A. Live, a giant construction site that sits to the north and a bit west of Staples Center, will be a $2 billion collection of hotels, including a Ritz Carlton and Marriott; the 2,300-capacity Club Nokia; the Grammy Museum; ESPN broadcast facilities; nine restaurants; a movie theater; and the Nokia Theater.

“We’ll be in the convention business with the city,” Leiweke said.

Before that day arrives, AEG is focused on getting everything in place for Monday’s load-in of the Eagles’ gear. Tuesday evening, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 33 Stagehands ratified a five-year contract with the theater by a vote of 320 to 32.

“We’re pleased we finally came to a meeting of the minds with AEG,” said Local 33 business rep James Wright, noting the package is comparable to that at other area venues. “This is a contract we can build on.”

When AEG opened its Nokia Theater in Gotham’s Times Square two years ago, it had attempted to do so non-union. When workers threatened to walk prior to the opening concert, AEG inked a five-year deal with the IA.

At 7,100 seats, the Nokia is larger than most of L.A.’s large theaters: Gibson has 6,200, the outdoor Greek Theater boasts 5,700 and the Kodak has 3,000-3,400.

The Nokia stage is distinctively large: 180 feet by 80 feet.

The orchestra level is practically a hall unto itself: 4,340 of the venue’s seats are in the lower level, and the upper reaches of the hall can be blocked by curtains to make the room feel like a smaller theater.

Among the Nokia’s major selling points, Leiweke noted, will be its electronically operated rigging systems for lights and sound equipment that keep humans off the catwalks; two 16 foot by 29 foot LED screens alongside the stage; a dozen dressing rooms; hospitality suites; and a covered load-in area that can accommodate three semis.

“There are three ways to load in. We have enormous wing space and two levels (to store equipment),” Leiweke said, connecting the building’s offerings to cost savings for promoters and acts. “The orchestra pit is on hydraulics; there’s no need to bring a projection system. There’s less time needed to get in and get out. People will spend less money producing a show here” than at any other house in L.A.

AEG created two VIP seating areas — opera boxes on the sides and the first two rows of the mezzanine. The 12 opera boxes, six on each side, stacked in two levels, sold for about $150,000 each. Company has sold 220 of the 256 premium seats licenses that were offered for between $2,500 and $5,000 per year. License gives the owner the right to purchase tickets plus parking privileges and access to a private club.

The Eagles-Dixie Chicks shows sold out in a flash, and AEG has since been announcing future shows — Neil Young on Oct. 30, Anita Baker on Nov. 3, John Fogerty on Nov. 23, Enrique Iglesias on Dec. 7 and George Lopez on Dec. 26, 27 and 31, to name just a few.

But Leiweke is well aware that L.A. Live has not yet achieved name recognition and that only the people who attend Lakers, Kings and Clippers game know how to navigate the area south of Olympic Boulevard between the 110 and Figueroa and find parking.

AEG has printed a half-million parking guides to distribute to patrons and said it has added 3,000 parking spaces to the area. Concerts are scheduled to begin at 8:15 p.m.; tipoff for a Clippers-Suns game on opening night is at 7:30, as are most other sporting events.

“We are going to have some issues,” Leiweke said, adding, “We’re working on a better infrastructure.

“We have to teach people where (new parking) is. We have to teach people how to get into the building, because we can’t have 7,000 people using the front door at once. We have to teach them that there are four lobbies, all equal size. These are challenges that will be solved by habit.”

Leiweke envisions a time when all the elements of L.A. Live will be used for a single purpose, such as a weeklong “American Idol” festival that would include the staging of the singing show’s finale, concerts and club appearances by former finalists and a fan fair that would involve the Convention Center.

There is a tunnel between Staples Center and the Nokia that creates the opportunity for an artist to sing the national anthem before a sporting event and then walk across the way backstage. Plans also call for a tunnel from the hotels to the backstage area, allowing a performer to commute to a show on foot.

In a way, AEG, which promotes shows in addition to running venues, will be operating in a fashion similar to its key competitor, Live Nation. With the club and theater, AEG has venues for a performer at the 2,000-seat level, the 7,000-seat level and the arena level.

Live Nation, with its remodeling of the Hollywood Palladium, has 1,000-2,000 seats covered by House of Blues, the Avalon and Wiltern; 4,000 capacity at the Palladium; and 6,100 at Gibson. It is a free agent when it comes to arenas.

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