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Bids to Operate Starlight Face Council Audition

Times Staff Writer

Burbank officials tonight will once again try to come to grips with what has come to be known as the city’s “white elephant.”

That is how Mayor Mary Lou Howard refers to the Starlight Amphitheatre, a city-owned open-air theater that has brought Burbank costly legal troubles, red ink and bad publicity.

The City Council tonight will consider bids to run the troubled facility next summer, despite remaining uncertainty over whether the Starlight should try to compete with the large concert sites in the Los Angeles area or evolve into a locally oriented cultural center.

Last Operator Filed Bankruptcy

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Previous operators, who tried to bring commercial acts to the Starlight, failed to attract major entertainers. Tom Griffin, the Starlight’s last operator, had to file for relief under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law when his promotion firm could not consistently attract big-name acts. Other promoters have accused the city of censorship and interference with attempts to stage rock music acts.

When officials solicited bids to operate the Starlight in August, the show business world did not exactly break down Burbank’s door. Only three proposals from prospective operators were received, and will be considered tonight.

Parks and Recreation Department officials are recommending that the city award next year’s nine-month contract to the Los Angeles Pops Orchestra, a nonprofit organization offering to stage its season of dance and pop music concerts. The Santa Monica-based group does not have a home base now but stages its concerts at various sites throughout the Los Angeles area.

Orchestra officials, realizing that the city would like to turn a profit at the Starlight, offered in their bid to try to attract and sponsor commercial acts as well, but they did not include any budget or profit-loss projections.

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Richard Inga, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, told City Council members that, although the orchestra would most likely “not generate a significant amount of revenue” for Burbank, the organization would “provide the community with a stable, culturally enriching source of entertainment.”

Another bidder, Kevin Singerman, wants the city to spend at least $1.5 million to improve the Starlight. After that, Singerman projected, he could bring $62,590 in profits for the city per event.

The third bidder, Tim Pinch of Tim Pinch Productions, told officials that his firm could bring lesser-known talent covering a “wide variety of musical entertainment” and could bring to city coffers about $9,000 monthly from ticket sales alone. The city would get additional revenue from its share of proceeds from refreshment, parking and souvenir concessions, Pinch says in his proposal.

Pops Orchestra Favored

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Inga, in his report to the council, listed Pinch Productions as the staff’s second choice behind the pops orchestra. He noted that Singerman did not attend an advisory committee meeting on the bids and therefore his was not considered.

Howard leaves no doubt about her preference.

“I’m in favor of bringing in the pops orchestra and not at all interested in turning the Starlight into a commercial venture,” Howard said in an interview Monday. “We’ve already been burned. It’s a beautiful facility, but it doesn’t belong in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The L. A. Pops is the sure and safe way to go.”

But other city officials were not so sure. Councilman Michael Hastings said that he was unhappy with the sparse number of proposals and that officials should have tried harder to get more bids.

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The city can do just that. If a majority of the council cannot agree on any of the three proposals, the alternative is to try again. But Inga said that would almost certainly guarantee another “dark” season for the Starlight.

The city has had problems with the Starlight for years. Always a money loser, it generated considerable controversy during the late 1970s when the city barred its leaseholder, Cinevision, from staging some rock concerts. A Los Angeles Superior Court jury this year ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and ordered the city to pay $4.6 million to Cinevision.


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