After years of contract extensions, on June 4, 2014, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) finally released a long-delayed Request For Proposals (RFP) for operation of the historic Greek Theatre. The RFP encompassed a ten-year contract with an option of two five-year extensions.
Two proposals were submitted: (1) Nederlander Concerts (the Greek Theatre operator for the past 39 years) submitted in partnership with concert giant AEG Live (operator of LA Live and Nokia Center) and (2) Live Nation (the nation’s largest concert promoter, which also owns Ticketmaster).
The Early Evolution Of The RFP Process
In 2011, the Department engaged an outside consulting firm to develop the RFP under the close supervision of RAP staff. The objective was for the consultant to develop the proposal criteria, participate in the proposal analysis, assemble a panel of industry experts to review and grade the proposals and ultimately provide a recommendation as to which proposer should be awarded the contract.
As a rule, the development and execution of an RFP is conducted without public input. This process was different, however, because of intense public interest due to the Greek’s location within a residential area. From the outset, RAP told us repeatedly that public input would be an important part of this particular RFP process.
On January 29, 2014, there was a well-attended public kickoff at Friendship Auditorium to introduce the consultant and the process. The consultant gave a PowerPoint presentation outlining the initial parameters they were looking to build into the RFP (they were still developing the Draft RFP). At that meeting the consultant publically committed to meeting with concerned resident groups before finalizing the RFP. The consultant specifically named the LFIA and the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council as groups that would be consulted. As it turns out, consultation with stakeholder groups was required of the consultant.
For months we waited patiently as the consultant prepared the RFP. During this time the consultant made no attempt to contact us for a meeting. Therefore, all of us were taken by surprise in May when the availability of Draft RFP document was announced, swiftly approved by the RAP Board of Commissioners and readied for release. Little time was afforded us to understand the finalized RFP parameters. We protested about the sudden haste. It was particularly irksome that we had only a matter of days to study the complex RFP and were forced to scramble to understand the implications and make our concerns known before the document was released and the proposal process was off and running. Unfortunately, we were able to have little effect on the final product. The RFP was released by RAP on June 4, 2014 with a proposal submission deadline of August 12.
The Panel’s Decision Is Announced
In late September we were all stunned when it was announced that the consultant’s panel had deliberated and rendered a recommendation of Live Nation as the winning bidder and the new RAP GM Mike Schull and his staff had approved that recommendation. Five days later, the RAP Board of Commissioners scheduled a meeting to approve the selection and was equally stunned by the volume of attendees who objected to being excluded from the early process and the final decision.
The public reaction was so intense that the Commissioners postponed their decision, scheduled an additional hearing and posted all proposal related documents online. Only then did we get our first look of the panel’s criteria and scoring. Two additional (massively attended) public meetings ensued before the Commission finally approved the RAP staff recommendation and sent that recommendation forward to City Hall for final approval.
The RAP Recommendation Is Rejected
On January 26, 2015, at a SRO meeting with 700 people attending, the City Council Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and Rivers Committee surprised everyone again, by rejecting the Commission’s recommendation. The motion to reject has yet to be ratified by the full City Council.
Why LFIA Opposes The Recommendation Of Live Nation
Over the years the LFIA has had a long, successful partnership with Nederlander, resulting in collaborative solutions to the very tricky operation of an outdoor concert venue in the middle of an exclusively residential neighborhood.
As many as 75 concerts per year directly affect 1100 households, burden already gridlocked Los Feliz Boulevard, and have the potential to inflict unacceptable (illegal) noise on any given concert night. Concertgoer vehicle ingress and egress through (already heavily travelled) residential streets of Vermont and Hillhurst have been vexing problems. This is particularly so when there are other events in the park or when Los Angeles’ 4th most visited attraction, Griffith Observatory has high volume.
Over the years, we’ve had a representative at the Greek Theatre Advisory Committee, (currently LFIA board director Angela Stewart) and have fashioned a livable solution to most of these problems. The massive turnout, at Friendship Auditorium and City Hall meetings, of directly impacted residents testify to the cooperative and affectionate relationship Nederlander has conscientiously fostered over the years.
The Difference Between The Two Proposals
- Guaranteed Revenue to The City: For full term rent and performance revenue to the department, a $17-22 million advantage goes to Nederlander/AEG.
- Capital improvements to the theatre: While the scope of the two proposals is quite similar, there is an approx. $20 million larger investment in the proposal submitted by Live Nation.
- Facility & operational improvements: Both bidders will improve ticketing, employ comprehensive shuttling services, upgrade food and beverage sub-concessions and bring brand-name restaurants to the venue.
The LFIA Position
Our position, after carefully analyzing the bids and meeting several times with all the proposing entities, is concurrence with the proposed City Council preference of Nederlander/AEG.
- Safety & Community Relations track record: Nederlander has an excellent (and well-earned) performance record in the operation of the venue and community relations. Live Nation, on the other hand, has extensively documented (and often unresolved) safety and community relations issues that plague many of the venues it operates.
- Much needed revenue for the City: The revenue advantage of the Nederlander/AEG proposal will contribute substantially more hard-cash revenue to the Rec and Park department for recreation centers and will help supplement the Park Ranger division citywide. We have long fought for the Rangers, which we consider a vital service to our neighborhood. We are bordered by America’s largest urban park that has a history of home-threatening fires and frequent flare-ups of criminal activity. The Rangers are often, in fact, our first responders.
- A more fitting capital improvement design: After finally getting a chance to analyze the capital improvements proposed by each vendor, we find they are nearly identical in scope (with the possible exception of rebuild/repair of the seating terraces which was listed as an option in the RFP and which Nederlander/AEG have legally agreed to do in the future should engineer assessments find it necessary). Most of the historians on our board feel the light touch of Brenda Levin’s design better honors the historic Greek Revival Style vs. the ultramodern treatment proposed by the Live Nation plan. Besides, there is doubt that the Live Nation concept will ever survive intact through either the Los Angeles Heritage Commission or Department of The Interior historic resources approval processes. Ms. Levin has done a wonderful job of modernizing the Observatory while retaining the integrity of the historic structure as it was originally built.
In conclusion, we have found the Greek Theatre RFP process has been less than inclusive, less than transparent (at the development stage, where it mattered) and a poor model of good governance. We prefer Nederlander/AEG as an already tested and trusted neighbor. Given the similarity in scope of the proposed improvements, we assert that our elected officials have no recourse but to choose the bidder that contributes $17-22 million more to the depleted Recreation and Parks Department budget.
As our great city councilman said at the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River meeting, “The Greek is a magical place and it’s magical because of the Nederlanders”. We agree.