Bids for the Greek Theatre: Why even bother?

Why solicit and vet bids for the Greek's operation if recommendations are ignored?

A Los Angeles City Council committee this week rejected the recommendation of an independent expert panel as well as the decision by the Recreation and Parks Commission to pick entertainment giant Live Nation as the new operator of the city-owned Greek Theatre. Instead, the committee voted to award the multimillion-dollar contract once again to the Nederlander Organization, which has managed the theater for four decades, and its new partner, AEG Live, which developed Staples Center and L.A. Live.

But 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?

In fact, the complicated, multi-stage evaluation process was designed to insulate the decision from the kind of politicking that occurred the last time the contract was awarded more than a decade ago. At that time, the City Council was facing criticism for giving Nederlander regular contract extensions rather than opening the contract to competitive bidding. When it did open up the process, city staff recommended a new management company, House of Blues, prompting a bitter fight among the entertainment companies and inside City Hall. In the end, Nederlander reached a deal to partner with House of Blues on marketing.

This time, Recreation and Parks staff hired an outside firm to analyze the theater's needs and develop the request for proposals. The firm brought in a panel of industry experts to evaluate the bids, and that panel unanimously selected Live Nation, largely because it pledged to spend far more renovating the venue. Nederlander-AEG challenged the findings and rallied neighboring residents; Live Nation accused the firm of politicizing the process, and both sides have been lobbying heavily to sway the City Council.

Council members on the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee didn't cite errors in the scoring or flaws in the bidding process to justify their vote. Rather, the rationale for the 4-1 decision to overrule the commission was essentially that neighborhood residents like Nederlander and are worried about Live Nation, and AEG has been a good partner with the city on other projects.

Certainly, city officials should be sensitive to neighbors' concerns about noise and traffic. But if community relations was going to be the deciding factor, then council members should have said so at the outset. When they move the goal posts at the last minute, they undermine the appearance of transparency and fairness. And if lawmakers overrule the experts — which is their right as elected decision-makers — they owe it to the public to explain what the experts got wrong and why an alternative approach is best for the city.

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