By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Not many big cities have a Greek Theater like ours. Los Angeles’ own Greek resulted from a grant from Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith, who endowed it 102 years ago in the park that bears his name. Never mind that it’s more often the scene of headbanger rock concerts than the Oedipus cycle: With its perfect Doric façade and its sweep of hillside seating for 6,162, it’s long been one of our community’s most elegant and taken-for-granted assets.
Not, however, by the gigantic Nederlander Corp. Nederlander operates 35 theaters in the U.S., Canada and Europe — five of them in the greater Los Angeles area. The Greek is the second largest of these, after the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. (By the way, is there an Anaheim Pond of Lake Arrowhead?) But the Greek is far and away the largest Nederlander operation in Los Angeles proper.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Although this publication has sometimes complained of problems with Nederlander management, the city’s been regularly renewing its Greek Theater contract for the past 24 years. But then a funny thing happened. While the current Nederlander contract isn’t up for renewal until October 2001, Nederlander submitted a new contract in April that offered various costly improvements on the theater — for the same $500,000-per-year terms — through to 2006. These were the same improvements the Board of Recreation and Parks had previously announced it would ask of other bidders for the Greek concession. (The city’s request for bids on this contract usually goes out two years in advance of its expiration.) But the Nederlander renewal would avoid the inconvenience of having also to offer the contract to those competitive bidders.
On June 2, the Board of Recreation and Parks agreed to consider such a contract "in concept," according to R&P staff member Linda Barth. Neal Papiano, the power attorney and still-unregistered city lobbyist who presented the proposal, could not be reached for comment, but in his presentation he stated that the renewal was "both in the best interest of the city and required to further the public’s use and enjoyment of the theater . . ." Only two board members questioned the proposal’s legality, R&P board president Steve Soboroff and commissioner Lisa Specht, who cited a charter requirement that a new contract be put out to bid.
But their dissent helped alert City Councilman Joel Wachs, who memo’d R&P board president (and mayoral hopeful) Steve Soboroff.
"What in the world were you thinking?" Wachs asked, noting that the board’s action was taken "with blatant disregard for the requirements of the City Charter" and "the advice of the city attorney who informed the board that it would violate [that] charter."
Assistant City Attorney Mark Brown, in his memo to the board, queried the legality of the renewal arrangement, noting that four other management firms plan to bid for the next Greek management contract. They may never get a chance. Following input from the city attorney, the Nederlander renewal proposal goes back to the R&P Commission next month for review — and, assuming the commission gives its nod, thence for final approval to a City Council over which Papiano’s golden tongue has often showed powerful suasion.
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