Battle for Control of L.A.’s Greek Theatre Rages On

Despite an independent panel's vote in favor of Live Nation, Nederlander/AEG's community outreach gains ground

Greek Theatre

In the battle between two of the world’s biggest concert promoters for control over L.A.’s Greek Theatre, it appears Nederlander/AEG Worldwide holds a slight edge over Live Nation, at least in the court of public opinion. But the war of words continues, with both sides trying to exert spin control over their competing proposals.

Last week, the L.A. City Council’s Arts, Parks, Health, Aging & River Committee rejected the Department of Recreation and Parks’ recommendation to back Live Nation’s bid, bolstered by support from more than 30,000 community residents who signed Nederlander/AEG’s petition to retain control of the venue. In addition, almost a dozen L.A. neighborhood councils insisted there be further review of the two proposals.

The final City Council vote on a 10-year, multimillion-dollar contract — with the possibility of two five-year extensions — to run the venue is set to take place next week.

Managed, operated and booked by Nederlander Concerts since 1976, the 5,900 capacity outdoor amphitheater, built in 1929 and owned by the City of Los Angeles, is located in the heart of Griffith Park. AEG entered the picture as a partner to Nederlander in July of 2014.

Because the Greek is surrounded by some high-priced houses, and due to its landmark status, residents have been especially vocal about eventual control over the site. Proposed improvements to the property including structural refurbishments, parking, concessions, more formal dining options and expanded artist quarters. But the way those improvements would be made appears to be the bone of contention, especially considering traffic density, noise levels and potential remodels that might compromise the integrity of a historic property.

“The evidence is overwhelming that the Nederlander/AEG Live proposal is in the best interest of the city and the right choice for the future of the iconic Greek,” said Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander Concerts, in a statement issued Jan. 26.

That same day, Live Nation issued its own proclamation, stating, “We remain confident that the full City Council will be guided by the merits of our proposal — not the strong-arm tactics of our opponent.” The statement went on to claim that Live Nation is committed to “investing more than twice as much in capital improvements as Nederlander.”

According to Nederlander/AEG, its proposal promises 29% more rent, or $17.5 million more guaranteed to the city over the full potential 20-year term. Its other goals include complete historic renovation, a yearly upgrade of sound and lighting, no more Ticketmaster (which is part of Live Nation), free weekly community events, an expanded shuttle program, no stacked parking and a year-round cafe.

For its part, Live Nation, according to its website, pledges to replace all seating, restore the stage’s Greek columns to their original 1930s state, create a new roof structure to accommodate modern production needs, refurbish the terra cotta roof and skylights, improve parking options, modernize the dressing rooms and create “an inviting front entry and plaza.”

Live Nation is also pledging more than double the capital investment over 20 years ($40 million, vs. $18.7 million) as well as 20 more shows annually. Its proposal scored 455 points out of a possible 500 by an independent panel within the Recreation and Parks Commission, compared to Nederlander/AEG’s 396. Nederlander/AEG topped Live Nation only in the category of “Community Partnership.”

And therein lies the rub. Although Recreation and Parks favored Live Nation’s plan, four of the five council members on the City’s Arts, Parks, Health, Aging & River Committee voted to reject the commission’s proposal at a packed hearing in City Council Chambers on Jan. 26.

The rejection prompted an outcry from the Los Angeles Times, which in its op-ed pages ran an editorial with the headline: “Bids for the Greek Theatre: Why even bother?”

“What’s the point of soliciting bids, hiring entertainment specialists to vet those bids and asking volunteer commissioners to select the best value for taxpayers if the members of the City Council are ultimately going to ignore all that analysis and pick the company they like best?” read the piece.

Joe Berchtold, COO of Live Nation, says, “There have been a lot of half-truths and fear mongering as it relates to Live Nation. What (Nederlander/AEG) is also trying to do is paint this into a ‘he said, she said,’ saying that we’re both on equal footing. But it’s simply not true.

“In effect what our competitors are now saying is, ‘Now that the game’s over and we’ve lost, we’d like to count touchdowns as five points and field goals as six points. And if you rescore based on that at the end of the game, we think we’ve won.’”

But Rena Wasserman, the Greek’s general manager, says the community’s concerns are legitimate. “We have gone out of our way to be friendly and transparent and have open dialog with our neighbors,” she says, “and they appreciate that.”

Berchtold counters that time has been on Nederlanders side. “They have done a good job in recent years of making sure they’ve invested in building relationships with the community,” he says. “And until we had the Recs and Parks Commission select us, we didn’t have any standing to go and develop that same relationship, so it takes us a while to catch up to that.”

Wasserman asserts that despite Live Nation’s promise for more capital funding, Nederlander/AEG’s plan is more sensitive to the neighborhood, and more prudent financially.

“The fact of the matter is we think we can do it less expensively,” she asserts. “It’s that old, ‘do we buy a $600 hammer or a $60 hammer?’ Live Nation will actually purchase sound and lighting equipment, whereas we rent a sound system that we think is in the best interest of the artist and the neighbors. That sound system will be obsolete within a year and a half or two, since technology in that area is ever-changing.”

Berchtold can only point to his company’s track record in this regard. “Live Nation puts on 23,000 concerts a year globally, with 3,000 artists for 60 million fans,” he says. “I think we know how to put on a concert.”

Although the final vote is rumored to take place Feb. 11, no one contacted for this article would confirm the date.