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Downtown L.A. music festival sparks mixed reactions

The push to bring a major music festival to downtown Los Angeles — one with rapper Jay Z expected to play a creative role — has set off a tussle between two L.A. politicians.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar contends he was left out of discussions, spearheaded by Mayor Eric Garcetti in recent weeks, over bringing the two-day Budweiser Made in America music festival to Grand Park and the nearby steps of City Hall.

Huizar, who represents most of downtown, called for the city to withhold approval of any permits for the Labor Day weekend event until the details are properly vetted. An application submitted for the event said it would have three stages, several beer gardens and street closures lasting from five to 10 days, depending on the location.

"When we're talking about bringing 50,000 people to downtown Los Angeles and closing streets potentially for 10 days, that's really going to be a nightmare for the residents, for business owners and people who come to work here," Huizar said Wednesday.

Garcetti and Huizar had strained relations well before the music festival became an issue. Huizar campaigned aggressively last year for Garcetti's opponent, former City Controller Wendy Greuel, in the mayoral election. For months, Garcetti's chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, would not say whether she planned to mount a campaign to unseat Huizar. She recently announced that she was not running.

Live Nation, the event's promoter, did not respond to requests for comment. But mayoral spokesman Yusef Robb said the festival "would be a boon for our economy, one that would underscore downtown's resurgence and be a lot of fun for a lot of people."

Robb described the situation as a "misunderstanding," saying that mayoral aides spoke to Huizar's staff as early as February. Festival negotiations are still underway and the council will have an opportunity to vote on the event, Robb said.

"It makes sense for initial negotiations involving multiple executive departments to be handled by executives," he said. "And once those initial negotiations are firmed up, we look forward to engaging all stakeholders to come up with a final event that's the best it can possibly be."

Huizar spokesman Rick Coca countered that "most people would agree that a council member is an executive position." Contradicting Robb, Coca added that the festival does not need the council's approval, making a thorough community discussion even more critical.

"You have an event that's going to basically double the population of downtown for a day," he said.

Hours later, Robb said the event would indeed require a council vote because the city must sign off on a contract with the promoters. Asked about the possibility of 10 days of street closures, Robb said: "That's not going to happen."

The idea of a festival drew mixed responses Wednesday from those who live downtown. Some said they were so used to streets being blocked off that another major event wouldn't make much difference. "I think it'd be cool," said waitress and college student Lauren Kress. "They close the streets all the time anyway."

Downtown artist Ashley Urban was more worried, saying that the arrival of 50,000 people could be "a little chaotic." She compared it to residents' frustrations with Art Walk, the monthly event where visitors flock to downtown galleries. "People that aren't from here come down and get rambunctious," she said.

Market owner Kim Henderson said the city would need to manage the event properly. "As long as security and road closures are thought out, something like that can be beyond brilliant" for the area, she said. "But if it's poorly executed, it'll really scar businesses and future events."

Grand Park has grown increasingly popular as a venue since it opened in 2012. A Fourth of July fireworks event last year drew 12,000 people. Months later, a New Year's Eve party drew twice as many visitors and was hailed by organizers as a huge success.

Lucas Rivera, director of Grand Park, said city officials have contacted his office to see whether the area could be rented for the Made in America festival. Rivera said he was "super excited" about the idea of bringing the festival downtown, since the rental income would help pay for other community events the park provides for free throughout the year.

"Although [the festival] is not free, it's still pretty rad that Jay Z's a part of it," he said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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