Irvine, Calif. officials are considering going the way of the Greek Theatre, pausing negotiations with Live Nation for the development of a 14,000-capacity amphitheater at the city’s Great Park to consider a plan to go it alone and develop and manage a scaled-down 8,000-capacity amphitheater with city resources.
The decision surprised many during a special Irvine city council meeting on Tuesday night (July 25), when the Orange County city’s leaders were asked to approve a contract between the city and Live Nation for the development of a $130 million amphitheater to replace the non-permanent Live Nation-operated Five Points Amphitheater. Five Points opened in 2017 and was created to serve as a temporary replacement for Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, which operated from 1981 to 2016 on property that has since been converted to apartment buildings.
Live Nation had agreed to contribute $20 million to $30 million in capital costs toward the new amphitheater project and to operate the venue as an open amphitheater available to other promoters bringing shows to the region. In total, the amphitheater project would generate a projected $5 million per year for the city and run for a term of 25 years with two renewal options for 10 years each.
While several council members described the project as a good deal for the city, Irvine residents weren’t totally on board, with many complaining of possible traffic impacts as well as concerns about noise emanating from the venue. Other speakers, including John Hanna with the Southwest Mountain States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the project would bring both jobs and world-class talent to Orange County.
“We feel this is a good project. We think the City Manager has done a good job in terms of negotiations,” Hanna said, noting that the project fits with the original vision of the Great Park, “which was created to accommodate not just city members, but the entire region and this venue will do that.”
Irvine vice mayor Tammy Kim said she believed city officials needed more time to evaluate Live Nation’s proposal, which she said felt rushed through. “I think it’s important that we don’t come across as doing any backroom deals — we’re not Anaheim,” Kim said, throwing shade at the city’s neighbor, which has long been accused of having a cozy relationship with Disney.
A number of high-profile Live Nation executives were on hand to voice their support for the project, including Geni Lincoln, the company’s president of California, who said the new amphitheater would be home to “the most exciting events” and “the most diverse events” and would be open to all promoters looking to bring shows to the building.
After a four-hour meeting with more than 30 public comments, the council voted 3-2 to delay a vote on the project so that the city manager could explore a self-management strategy, which would see the city developing and building the venue itself while managing the bookings calendar between competing promoters.
Later in the meeting, city officials instructed the Irvine city manager’s office to pursue the self-management model, potentially mimicking a plan adopted by the city of Los Angeles, which ended Nederlander Concerts’ exclusive contract for the Greek Theatre in 2015. In Denver, the Red Rocks Amphitheatre has long been managed by the city and even allows visiting promoters to choose their own ticketing system.
While the self-management model at the Greek Theater — with ASM Global hired to serve as a third-party neutral manager — has netted more annual income for Los Angeles, it’s come at the expense of more than $50 million in deferred maintenance at the venue, including important earthquake retrofits.
From 1981 to 2016, Irvine Meadows hosted acts including Michael Jackson on his 1989 Bad tour, the Eagles and the Grateful Dead, who played a total of 15 shows there. Built by private investors and operated by Avalon Attractions, the amphitheater eventually landed in the hands of Live Nation in the late 1990s and served as an important Orange County stopover for bands traveling between Shoreline Amphitheater in Northern California and amphitheaters in San Diego County.
While Irvine Meadows was popular for touring amphitheater shows, the new venue would be hard-pressed to repeat the established success of the Greek Theatre, known for its historic design and location inside one of Los Angeles’ most popular park destinations. Without Live Nation, the top amphitheater promoter in the country, city officials managing the facility could face challenges bringing concerts there given Southern California’s competitive live entertainment market.