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While fans of the indie rock group Walk the Moon were gearing up last Thursday for the Greek Theatre’s final show of the 2015 season, Nederlander Concerts employees were also busy clearing out their offices at the venue.
“The family of Nederlander has felt honored to be the custodian of the Greek the last 40 years,” said Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander. “And what we felt and what we experienced the past couple years, it’s been a journey.”
Nederlander Concerts has been the operations manager at the city-owned, 5,900-seat venue at 2700 Vermont Ave. since 1975. But last year, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) ended business with Nederlander Concerts and, after a long process to find new managers, decided to operate the theatre itself.
“This last year was very tough because we were out,” Hodges said. “It’s like the public servant who had his last year. We knew we had to get out and turn the keys over just two days after the last show. We started while the last few shows were going on.”
He said the staff that worked at the Greek was still upbeat and proud.
“Certainly some melancholy is part of it. But the joy of what we do every day took over as a grander part of the spirit,” he said.
Michael Shull, RAP’s general manager, said that the reassessment of Nederlander’s expiring contract, rather than renewal, was part of city protocol.
“When any contract in the city comes to the end we need to review those,” Shull said. “They received extensions in the past. It was time we rebid the project. It’s a normal process.”
RAP launched a request for proposal (RFP) last year to find the best management deal.
“I have an obligation to make sure that the city and our department gets the best value,” Shull said. “In order to do that you need to see what’s out there. We knew under the RFP process we were going to get more value.”
Two bids emerged from an initial RFP process: one from Live Nation and one from a partnership between Nederlander and AEG. The two bids were weighed by a third party consultant, which ranked the Live Nation bid the highest. The bids were for a 10-year contact, with the possibility of two five-year extensions.
The RAP commission initially chose Live Nation in October 2014. In January, Nederlander marketers launched a campaign and posted green signs around the neighborhood that read “City Council & Mayor Garcetti, JOIN US! #WeAreTheGreek.”
“It definitely was our call to action. When RAP initially recommended Live Nation, the community and neighbors around the Greek were very passionate and were calling us and wanted to do something,” said Vanessa Kromer, Nederlander’s vice president of communications. “We found out on a Friday, and on that following Monday we had built a website and got 12,000 petition signatures in 24 hours. We had stacks and stacks of content. It was like love letters to the Greek. It showed the Greek isn’t just brick and mortar. It blew up into something we never could have planned for.”
Last week, it was announced that Venues Today magazine nominated Nederlander’s Kromer, Jay Hughen and Jamie Loeb for a “Hall of Headlines” award for that campaign.
Chris Laib of the Los Feliz Improvement Association, said neighbors pushed for the Nederlander bid because of the relationships they built with residents over time. But also, they felt left out of the process.
“The city’s view of public process and the public’s view of it are very divergent,” Laib said. “We felt hoodwinked and still do.”
The campaign, letters of disapproval from neighborhood councils and public outcry led to the city council vetoing the Live Nation recommendation in February.
Nederlander hoped the process would start over, or that RAP would extend their contract while a new RFP process started. But with the end of the Nederlander contract looming, RAP staff recommended the city operate the Greek Theatre itself as an open venue.
Shull and reports from RAP said that by cutting out the professional venue operator, the estimated profit to the city in 2016 could total approximately $3 million for 50 events and $4.8 million for 70 events. In 2014, the Greek Theatre generated $1.977 million in revenue-sharing payments to the city. The reports said the open venue model provides the best revenue opportunity RAP has experienced in decades. If the Greek Theatre nets 25 percent of what the department projects, it will equal what the city earns from the theatre now. RAP said self-operating would enable the city to maintain control of the programming calendar while providing open access to all promoters on a non-exclusive basis.
The RAP Commission in April approved plans for the city to operate the Greek Theatre. The city council had the option in May to use Charter 245, which would override and possibly veto the RAP commission’s decision, but no council member chose to invoke it.
Nederlander staff were shocked by this, they said.
“We had a vision,” Hodges said. “When we were turned down, these things aren’t happening. Having a superior bid, and not winning … it’s been a shock. At no time did we emotionally or financially feel that we were going to be granted an advantage in getting the Greek. We looked at it as an opportunity to put forth a grand vision.”
Shull said the risk would be “minimal” for the RAP department to run the Greek Theatre as an open venue, and it would hire professionals to manage the property.
In September, RAP chose venue management firm, SMG, for the position of oversight manager of the Greek Theatre. Nederlander, AEG and Live Nation did not qualify because RAP prohibited promoters from applying for the position.
Shull said SMG will act as agents, not promoters, to oversee day-to-day operations. The firm will work under the direction of RAP staff. The company will have an on-site team made up of of different managers for the theatre’s needs and operations. The new Greek Theatre general manager will be responsible for communications with the community, along with a full-time community liaison staffed by RAP.
Shull said the SMG employees take up the office space that Nederlander once occupied.
According to Shull, there is no anticipated change from the current operation other than an increase in the number of the shuttles provided from the off-site parking lots and from Metro stations. He also said there should be no noticeable difference in the sound levels inside or outside the venue, and that the average concert-goer won’t notice the change in management.
“It should be seamless for anybody who enjoys the Greek Theatre,” Shull said. “We hope to do some things to improve. A benefit from the open venue model, you’ll be able to get more variety of concerts. With the old model, it was just one promoter. Now there are more promoters. This gives you the best of everything.”
Concerns from city officials have persisted though. In August, Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, introduced a motion to direct RAP to report on its open venue model.
Ryu’s motion cited seven “areas of community concern” on which he suggested RAP report. They include current traffic and noise mitigation measures; security; infrastructure maintenance, parking and shuttle services; aesthetic quality; public information efforts surrounding RAP’s process in request for proposals (RFP); options for future management; and constituent concern intake. RAP addressed those concerns in a report within the same week. Ryu said in October that he will be watching the operation “like a hawk.”
If the city isn’t satisfied with the revenue that comes in, RAP will issue another RFP.
Concerns also remain with neighbors, especially after it was announced last week that Billboard Magazine nominated Nederlander Concerts for “Top Independent Promoter of the Year.” The Greek Theatre was nominated by Pollstar magazine for North America’s “Best Small Outdoor Venue of the Year” and its general manager, Nederlander’s Rena Wasserman, was nominated for “Facility Executive of the Year.”
“Rena Wasserman was magical at being an ombudsman to making it work,” Laib said. “We liked [Nederlander] because we knew them. If [RAP does] everything they say they’re going to do and if the city increases shuttling, I think it will work toward a successful partnership. It’s going to be very simple that way.”
But Laib questioned RAP’s ability to manage a private business.
“There are a lot of skeptics that say the city isn’t nimble enough to go into the private sector and run an operation like a concert venue,” Laib said. “From what I could find, it’s a complicated business and there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen and it’s very challenging.”
Now, all eyes are on April 15, the start of the Greek’s next concert season.
“It’s going really well,” Shull said. “I think we have right around 16 confirmed contracted shows already, and approximately 1,500 applications. There’s no lack of interest. That’s one of the nice things about it. Some dates are 10-15 [applications] deep. There’s a high level of interest. I fully expect the calendar to be full soon.”
Shull said RAP is in the planning process to make “cosmetic” changes including improvements to the plaza area, redoing the lighting system, renovating the signage and lighting improvements. They also plan to redo all the dressing rooms.
At RAP’s new website for the theatre, lagreektheatre.com, fans can buy tickets to a Bryan Adams show next year.
“My goal is to try to take this iconic venue and help the parks system and make sure we’re getting the best value,” Shull said. “It’s exciting.”
Shull said he also plans to make the facility open to the general public to visit when a concert isn’t occurring. On Nov. 14, RAP will open the doors to the public for an open house. Fans can meet the new staff and view the dressing rooms. An official announcement with details is expected soon.
On Nov. 18, RAP will recommend a company called Premiere to oversee the food and beverage concessions for the Greek.
As of now, Shull said he doesn’t expect litigation measures surrounding the Greek or its operations model.
Nederlander staff said they will continue to work to be a strong independent promoter.
“We’ll go from larger venue to smaller venues, all up and down the coast like we have over the last decade,” Hodges said. “We are dedicated to the concert and to the concert model and to presenting shows at all of the venues that we can in California and being very competitive and working in a very friendly relationship with other promoters.”
Laib said neighbors are keeping an open mind.
“We want to be a partner to it working,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, we need to fix it. A five-year learning curve is not acceptable.”
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