Nokia seen as a lure to downtown

Times Staff Writer

In nabbing a series of high-profile awards shows from other L.A. venues over the last month, the Nokia Theatre is beginning to deliver on the promise of drawing more star power to downtown L.A.

The Emmys, the ESPYs and the “American Idol” finale will call Nokia home -- creating what downtown officials and others hope will be a juggernaut when combined with the Lakers, Kings, Clippers and Grammys at Staples Center next door. (Nokia had earlier secured the American Music Awards.)

Downtown boosters and officials at Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns both venues, hope to use these events to draw to the city center people who until now have had little reason to go.


Tim Leiweke, Anschutz Entertainment president and chief executive, said he could imagine a time that the “American Idol” finale would include a weeklong “fan fest” that would draw more people downtown.

The big question, however, is whether “Idol” fans and Emmy guests will make downtown a one-time destination or whether the high-profile events can actually help draw more residents and businesses to the city center.

Cities have long tried to improve the fortunes of their faded downtowns by building stadiums, baseball parks and arts venues there. In downtown L.A., there is clear evidence that the opening of Staples brought life to the area -- including new eateries and a slate of upscale condo towers.

But the trick for city officials is finding ways to get people drawn by the big events at Nokia to venture farther into downtown -- and to spend more than an evening there.

“There is no doubt that this project brings more visibility to downtown and brings people from other areas to downtown,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, chairwoman of the urban planning department at UCLA. “But most of the studies tend to show that people come, go to the event and then leave. They don’t spend time around downtown or patronize other facilities.”

The Nokia Theatre is a focal part of the $2.5-billion LA Live project, which eventually will include a 123-room Ritz-Carlton hotel, luxury condos, a dozen restaurants and clubs, a Grammy museum and an 878-room JW Marriott hotel.


LA Live offers Nokia visitors numerous dining, lodging and entertainment options without the need to leave the confines of the development and venture into the downtown neighborhood.

Still, downtown backers remain optimistic about getting visitors beyond LA Live. Carol Schatz of the Downtown Business Improvement District said her organization was working closely with Leiweke and AEG to do cross-marketing to ticket-holders, encouraging them to “come early and stay late.”

“We want to tell them what’s available downtown beyond what’s in the LA Live and Staples area,” she said.

The venue is within walking or transit distance of such attractions as the Jewelry and Toy districts, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santee Alley, and the Figueroa Hotel, Edison Bar and the Standard hotel.

LA Live “doesn’t have everything,” said Eric Richardson, who runs the website www.blogdowntown. “They have the venue and the hotel rooms, but there is always going to be that need for extracurricular things that go with the event.”

When it opened in October, the 7,100-seat Nokia theater promised to help build the area -- along with Staples and the Music Center complex -- into the region’s leader in big-ticket, live entertainment. In addition to recently announced events, the American Music Awards calls the theater home.

The Nokia is the centerpiece of LA Live’s “one-stop shopping,” approach. In addition to the hotels, the project will eventually include a ballroom space for large-scale parties and a 40,000-square-foot courtyard that will be used in part to stage arrivals for events and photo opportunities. The theater itself features high-definition video screens, acoustic panels on every surface and easy wiring for television cameras.

Those amenities, Leiweke said, will allow the theater to offer events before and after the event -- for the public and ticket holders.

In addition, certain features of the Nokia allow the events to connect with Staples Center -- already home to the Lakers, Clippers and Kings -- both above ground and below. Sports team fan festivals can close down the street between the venues -- Chick Hearn Court -- and stretch out between Staples and the Nokia plaza. An underground tunnel links the two venues, allowing them to use each other’s dressing and staging rooms.

Planners have been working hard over the last five years to set apart the area around Staples, known as South Park, from the urban grittiness in other parts of the city center. Sparkling, new residential high-rises have risen from former parking lots and replaced warehouses and auto dealerships.

Meanwhile, the venues that lost their high-profile awards shows to Nokia have been left struggling to replace them.

Andy Stamatin, operations manager of the Shrine Auditorium, where the Emmys have been based for the last decade, was circumspect about the event’s departure from his venue.

“In this business,” he said, “we know that shows come and go. We understand how things work. The Emmys came to us from Pasadena, and they were there for years. . . . But we have other shows that have been calling us to come to the Shrine. We lose one show, but we always seem to gain a show.”

Representatives from the Kodak Theater, which had been home to the “American Idol” finale since it began in 2002 and has been the most recent home for the ESPY awards, did not return calls seeking comment. But they announced last year that they had signed a 10-year, $100-million agreement with Cirque du Soleil to create a permanent show for the Hollywood venue.

Leiweke of AEG said he was pleased that his organization was becoming a central venue for high-profile events. “Everything we dreamed about -- saying wouldn’t it be great -- we got,” he said.

Still, it will be a while until the dreams fully come to fruition. Many of the project’s restaurants are slated to open in October, but the hotels will not come on-line until 2010.

For now, that means the Emmys’ famed after-show Governor’s Ball will be held at the nearby Convention Center.




Downtown draws

L.A. Live is a massive retail and entertainment venue rising around Staples Center in the South Park section of downtown Los Angeles. Here’s a timeline of when various portions of the complex are or were scheduled to open:

October 2007

Nokia Theatre, the 7,100-seat concert venue

Nokia Plaza, a 40,000-square-foot outdoor area

1,500 parking spaces


October 2008

ESPN’s West Coast broadcast headquarters

12 restaurants, including ESPN Zone, Katsuya, Yard House, the Farm of Beverly Hills, Rosa Mexicano

The Grammy Museum

Club Nokia

The Conga Room

Lucky Strike Bowling

2,000 additional parking spaces


Late 2009 / early 2010

JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels

Ritz-Carlton Residences

14-screen Regal Cinemas


Source: L.A. Live