Deal Could End Rock at Pacific Amphitheatre : Entertainment: After 10-year battle over high-decibel shows, fair board agrees to buy concert venue and limit noise.


Loud rock 'n' roll and accompanying traffic jams at the Pacific Amphitheatre that have enraged its neighbors may be history.

The Orange County Fair Board announced a $12.5-million deal Thursday to buy the amphitheater and its long-term lease from promotions giant Nederlander Inc.

As part of the deal, the Pacific would enforce stricter noise regulations, meaning the end of appearances by such ear-splitting acts as Guns N' Roses and Van Halen when the current concert season ends.

About 15 shows have already been booked for this season, including a concert tonight by Sting and subsequent shows by the Allman Brothers Band, Van Halen and others. They will not be subject to the new noise restrictions, but any additional concerts booked this season will have to comply.

Nederlander officials, however, said the entire agreement hinges on the dismissal of a string of lawsuits filed by area residents, the city of Costa Mesa and the fair, which have fought for years to rid the area of the noise and traffic that accompany most concerts.

Costa Mesa and fair board officials hailed the pact as step toward bringing peace to a community that has been at odds with the 18,700-seat, outdoor theater for a decade.

"We are extremely excited about the agreement," said Don Willett, president of the Orange County Fair Board. "We have hopes it will solve the ongoing battles."

While happy with the new noise restrictions, residents seemed committed to winning further concessions from Nederlander.

"As far as our lawsuit goes, they put us through 10 years of hell," said Laurie Lusk, a founding member of Concerned Citizens of Costa Mesa, a watchdog group that has battled the amphitheater since 1983. "We are not going to back down."

Adding to the residents' concerns are still many unanswered questions about the deal. But officials declined to say what acts would be allowed to perform and whether the fair would turn its operation over to another promoter like Nederlander.

Norbert Bartosik, general manager of the fair, said they would work out the details once the agreement is made final. The fair board, formally known as the 32nd District Agricultural Assn., is a branch of state government which owns 10 acres on which the amphitheater sits.

Nederlander built the venue for $11 million in 1983 and held a 40-year lease on the facility's operations that was to end in 2023.

The change in operators could end the fierce rivalry between Pacific and neighbor Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre for top entertainment acts in Orange County. Irvine Meadows, with a capacity of 15,000, should have an uncontested hand in booking loud attractions that want to play outdoors, according to concert industry observers.

"Certainly (the Pacific is) not going to be a rock venue any longer," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Poll Star, a Fresno-based concert trade publication. "It's just impossible to do loud music" under the new restrictions. "They may find it difficult to do a lot of different things. There are some jazz shows that are quite loud."

Under the new limits, music levels cannot exceed 92 decibels at the amphitheater's sound control board at the top of the orchestra level. The limit at Pacific's back wall is 86 decibels.

(According to the World Book Encyclopedia, 140 decibels is considered the threshold of pain and equals the noise generated by a jet takeoff. The loudest rock bands can reach 120 decibels. A power saw generates 100 decibels.)

Susan Rosenbluth, general manager at the Pacific, said the restrictions were "much tougher" than those imposed at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, a Nederlander venue which she also manages. The Greek books a wide range of rock and pop attractions, including many who have also played at the Pacific.

"The Greek operates in the neighborhood of 95 to 98 decibels at the (mixing) board," she said. "Every three (decibels) essentially doubles the volume. The neighborhood is farther away at the Greek."

Asked whether the noise restrictions meant the end of rock 'n' roll at the Pacific, Rosenbluth smiled and nodded "yes."

With the Pacific apparently poised to deal itself out of the loud outdoor rock market, Poll Star's Bongiovanni said Orange County concert-goers could possibly see lower ticket prices.

"In the long run, the lessening of the competition may be better for the fans," he said. "The bidding wars resulted in higher ticket prices for everybody. Certainly (Irvine Meadows') negotiating position is improved."

In Orange County, the so-called "amph wars" have been waged since 1983 when the Pacific opened, ending the brief monopoly Irvine enjoyed after its debut in 1981.

Over the years, the two outdoor venues have been veritable gold mines for concert acts and their agents who have been able play one venue against the other.

"For these guys (Nederlander) to just walk away is really bizarre," said James Guerniot, a former Irvine booking agent who is now an executive at A&M; Records. "The competition has been intense, fierce, you name it. But it produced a very high-quality market in Orange County. I'm blown away."

Bob Geddes, Irvine's managing partner, said he was unfamiliar with the details of Pacific's operating switch but did not expect immediate changes on the local concert front.

"We've always done things irrespective of who's doing what," Geddes said. "I don't see it changing anything."

Even with the $12.5-million buyout, Nederlander partner Neil Papiano said the amphitheater would not recoup its losses over the past decade of operation.

"It will be a big loss, several million dollars," Papiano said. "We've had good years and bad. Overall, the losses have been horrendous."

After recording its most successful year in 1991, Pacific's attendance in 1992 fell to 250,000, from 357,000 the previous year. By 1990, the partners said, they had loaned the amphitheater a total of $17 million to keep it afloat.

Nederlander, however, will remain a player in Orange County.

It is expected that the promoter will now focus much of its attention on bookings at the $103-million Anaheim Arena, where it is a partner with Ogden Entertainment Services and the city of Anaheim. The 19,000-seat arena is expected to open this summer. Papiano also said he hoped to continue promoting shows at the Pacific.

Anaheim City Manager James D. Ruth said he had been aware that Nederlander wanted to leave Costa Mesa for some time. With the move, he expected the Anaheim Arena to host some concerts that otherwise would have played at the Pacific. Others observers said that Irvine Meadows would reap most of the business, because more bands gear their tours for the outdoors.

"It was so difficult for (Nederlander) to do business down there because of all the litigation over noise and traffic," Ruth said. "The city wasn't happy, the residents weren't happy and they were looking to close out. From our standpoint, we're pleased. Up here, inside the arena, there won't be a problem for the surrounding residents."

Three pending lawsuits will have to be dismissed before the deal is finally approved.

The Pacific is suing the state for not providing parking during three concerts held during the 1991 fair. The city of Costa Mesa is also suing the state for the traffic tie-ups caused during those July concerts. And residents have filed a class-action suit against Nederlander to force concert decibel levels down.

Correspondent Lynda Natali and staff writer Mike Boehm contributed to this story.

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