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L.A. parks commission fails to decide on Greek Theatre operator

The heated battle over who will run one of the most treasured venues in Los Angeles – the Greek Theatre – continued Thursday when a city commission failed to choose a bidder to operate the Griffith Park attraction.

The debate over the Greek has stirred protests by neighbors worried that a change of management could mean more noise and other nuisances. The theater is in a sensitive location, close to the park entrance and reached by roads that wind past homes in an affluent stretch of Los Feliz.

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For decades, the theater has been run by the Nederlander Organization, which partnered with entertainment giant AEG in its latest bid to keep operating the venue. Parks officials have recommended the contract go to Live Nation, which recently staged the Made in America festival downtown.

After a lengthy and emotional hearing Thursday at Friendship Auditorium near Griffith Park, recreation and parks commissioners were unable to muster the three votes needed to begin negotiating a contract with Live Nation. The decision was postponed for two weeks.

The two companies were evaluated on a long list of measures. Live Nation says it will guarantee $60 million in revenue to the city over two decades. That compares to $77 million guaranteed by Nederlander and AEG, according to a city report on the proposals.

But Live Nation pledged to spend more to renovate the theater over two decades, a panel of evaluators noted -- $40 million compared with roughly $19 million from Nederlander-AEG. That helped win Live Nation a higher ranking by the panel, which unanimously recommended its selection.

Nederlander-AEG argued that choosing Live Nation would cost the city more than $17 million in guaranteed money. The panel's recommendation was based on "flawed and unsupported analysis" that failed to properly account for its promised spending on theater maintenance, upgrades and community outreach, Nederlander-AEG said.

In recent weeks, Nederlander-AEG has mobilized community members to support its proposal. A website championing Nederlander as the operator says it is a "family-owned company" battling "a publicly traded Wall Street conglomerate." More than 20,000 people have signed an online petition backing its bid.

Longtime Los Feliz residents have spoken up publicly for the company, some voicing fears that Live Nation would book more raucous shows or bring increased violence to the area.

"Now's the time to stay with the guys we already know and trust," Los Feliz resident Shannon Nicholson said Thursday. She added that there was no reason to change operators. "It's not broken. It's fantastic."

Live Nation representatives said such fears are unfounded. They pointed to letters and testimony praising the company's ties to communities near other venues that the firm operates in California and elsewhere. Throngs of Live Nation employees and others backing its bid showed up Thursday in red shirts, a vivid contrast with the green worn by the Nederlander and AEG employees and supporters across the aisle.

In a letter to parks commissioners, a Live Nation attorney said Nederlander-AEG was "mounting a campaign of misinformation" by glossing over how much more Live Nation would spend on repairs and upgrades at the historic theater.

Live Nation attorney Victor De la Cruz wrote that Nederlander-AEG is proposing only "minor repairs" to the theater's terrace seating. The company plans to replace the terrace stands because its structural engineer found that they might not withstand an earthquake, De la Cruz said.

"Band-Aids will no longer fix this venue and make it look exceptional again," said Matt Prieshoff, a Live Nation executive.

After more than four hours, Recreation and Parks Commission President Sylvia Patsaouras tried to move ahead with the process of negotiating a contract with Live Nation. Commissioner Lynn Alvarez voted in favor of the motion, but member Iris Zuniga opposed it. With one commissioner absent and the fifth seat vacant, the panel lacked the three votes needed to proceed.

The last time companies competed for the Greek Theatre contract more than a decade ago, the decision paralyzed the parks commission. At that time, city staffers recommended giving the contract to the House of Blues, rather than Nederlander.

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After a bitter battle, the commission rejected both bids and restarted the process. Nederlander continued to operate the Greek after the firm reached a deal with House of Blues to cooperate on marketing for the Greek and another venue.

Parks officials warned that action will be needed to ensure theater renovations can get started and the operator has enough time to book acts for 2016. The new agreement will span a decade, with the opportunity to twice extend the agreement for another five years.

The final deal will have to be approved by the parks commission, the City Council and the mayor. 

Follow @latimesemily for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall

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