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Controversial city plan to run Greek Theatre moves ahead

Plan for city of Los Angeles to operate the Greek Theatre is poised to move forward

Los Angeles lawmakers grilled the head of the city parks department Tuesday over a controversial plan for the city to operate the Greek Theatre itself, the latest turn in the lengthy battle over the future of the Griffith Park venue.

"This strikes me as a bad business model," said Councilman Paul Koretz, telling colleagues he was "flabbergasted" by the plan. Before the meeting, he compared the idea to being offered a used Volkswagen cobbled together from spare parts instead of a Rolls Royce or a Bentley.

But despite criticism from Koretz and several other members of the council, the plan is continuing to move forward, to the disappointment of neighborhood groups and the company that has run the city-owned theater for decades.

Two weeks ago, the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners voted for the city to operate the property temporarily as an "open venue" not exclusively controlled by a single entertainment company.

The decision followed a lengthy tug-of-war between two show-business titans. The parks commission initially recommended choosing Live Nation to run the theater. But the City Council balked at that idea after community groups spoke up for its current operator, the Nederlander Organization, which also was competing for the contract with new partner AEG, which operates Staples Center downtown.

Under a new proposal approved by the parks commission, the city would take on responsibility for maintaining the theater and would control the concert calendar, allowing Live Nation, Nederlander and other promoters to book acts. Promoters would still be responsible for managing and paying musicians, advertising concerts and paying for security and ushers.

Parks officials estimate the plan could yield more net revenue for the city — $3 million to $4.8 million next year, compared with the roughly $2 million it received in rent last year. Parks Department General Manager Michael Shull said the venue would not be directly managed by department staffers because the city would hire a company to handle day-to-day operations.

The arrangement could provide the city the time to seek new proposals for an entertainment firm to exclusively run the facility and control bookings, Shull said. That process could take a year and a half, he told council members Tuesday.

Live Nation said it supports the latest parks department proposal, as does the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. But some neighborhood groups have voiced concern about the Parks Department's ability to operate the venue effectively.

The city "doesn't have the resources to just do this on their own," Tereza Yerimyan, president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, told reporters at a City Hall news conference Tuesday.

The Los Feliz Improvement Assn., the Greek Theatre Advisory Council and other local groups want to extend the existing contract with Nederlander — which expires at the end of October — while the city restarts the process of selecting a long-term operator.

Nederlander has offered higher rent if its current contact is extended, but Shull warned that this would not be a competitive process. He later said that to extend Nederlander's contract, he would need to establish his department had no viable alternative — a case he said he couldn't make because he was actively proposing another option to city officials.

Like Koretz, Councilman Mitch Englander appeared dubious of the department proposal, saying he doubted that it was in the best interests of the city. But Councilman Felipe Fuentes argued that the plan offered the city time to conduct a new bidding process.

The City Council discussion Tuesday was informational and no action was proposed. Council members have until Wednesday to assert jurisdiction over the parks commission's approval of the plan to have the city operate the theater, at least temporarily, according to the city attorney's office.

If that option is exercised, the council could veto the decision or let it stand.

Koretz aides said the councilman does not intend to pursue a possible override vote.  Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the district that includes the Greek, asked Tuesday for city administrative officer Miguel Santana to provide another report on the department's plan in August.

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