El Cajon, Live Nation ink deal for concert venue
Union Tribune (2017-12-15) Karen Pearlman
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More Info: Save ECPAC
The city of El Cajon has inked a five-year deal with the world's largest concert promoter to manage the East County Performing Arts Center, shuttered since 2009 because of safety concerns.
But first the city needs to spend upwards of $6 million to repair and upgrade the 40-year-old venue that once hosted such big-name acts as Willie Nelson, Tim Conway, the Dixie Chicks and Switchfoot.
The agreement approved Dec. 12 by the City Council gives Live Nation Worldwide Inc. $375,000 per year for the first five years. Live Nation will get an additional one-time $50,000 consulting fee for help in design, vendor choices, architectural and construction needs, and other specifications.
“They are not just right partner, but the very best partner in the entire nation and for the city of El Cajon,” said City Manager Doug Williford. “They’re not just the premier entertainment producer, they’re the finest live entertainment producer in the world.”
Williford said the company produces entertainment at nearly 200 venues in seven countries. In Southern California, the company operates or books numerous locations, including Chula Vista's Mattress Firm Amphitheater, San Diego's House of Blues, three venues owned by the city of Riverside and several in Los Angeles County. Live Nation Entertainment Inc. also owns Ticketmaster.
“Live Nation kind of has the Midas touch,” City Councilman Gary Kendrick said. “Every performing arts center they touch turns to gold.”
ECPAC first opened in 1977 as a 1,142-seat theater that was operated by the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. It was transferred to the city of El Cajon for $1 in 1995. It closed in 2009 because of a leaking roof, lack of access for disabled people and the financial challenges that accompanied addressing those needs. The city planned to reopen it in 2011, but safety issues stalled that plan.
Past performers there have included Al Jarreau, Lou Rawls and Michael Franks. It also has been home to orchestras, acrobats, choirs, theater groups and dance troupes.
The venue underwent nearly $200,000 in roof repairs in July.
Williford said the building needs additional improvements, which are estimated to cost from $5 million to $6 million, about twice as much as previously anticipated.
Some of the needs include:
- A new heating/ventilation/air conditioning system;
- Upgrades such as replacing hardware, new lighting fixtures, interior painting, restroom renovations and making the building ADA compliant;
- New production equipment for lights, sound and screens;
- Architect and engineering studies;
- Signage and graphics;
- Enlarging the concession areas;
- And plumbing, generators, fire safety and seating upgrades.
The next step will be an agreement for architectural services to be presented for City Council consideration in January 2018. Construction could start as early as this spring, Williford said.
The facility is expected to open in early 2019, Williford said.
“We will do everything we can, do all of our due diligence, to expedite this in every way we can,” he said. “To put it simply, it is the No. 1 construction priority in the city for 2018 and nothing is going to get in the way of that priority.”
Several speakers lauded the city for the work it did in getting the venue back to its old glory, including local advocate Ray Lutz, who called ECPAC “a civic asset.”
Lutz, head of a local citizens' oversight committee, was also the founder of the Save ECPAC Foundation, which worked for years lobbying for the building to open back up to the public.
“To wonder if Live Nation can run this is like wondering if Starbucks can run a coffee shop,” Lutz said, laughing. “It’ll provide a great reason for people to come to El Cajon.”
San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce President Eric Lund said the center will be a boon to business and the economy of the city.“Our chamber is all about how do we help build our business community up, and how do we make our business community stronger,” Lund said.
“Having a performing arts center in the center of the city is going to do nothing but create a great, great economic opportunity for a lot of our businesses. It’s going to be a real boon for the community and for the region. I think it’s going to help us a lot.”