By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As the L.A. City Council takes up the strange saga of the Michael Jackson memorial next week, the critical question will be whether area businesses really reaped a $4 million windfall for an event that cost taxpayers $3.2 million, and whether memorial organizer Anschutz Entertainment Group should be formally asked to cover that cost.
AEG’s defenders, including Councilwoman Jan Perry, have repeatedly cited a $4 million windfall to city restaurants, hotels and other businesses as a result of visitors, celebrities and dignitaries spending money here during the July 7 Jackson tribute. But what if the $4 million estimate was based on assumptions that proved to be faulty?
Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., told L.A. Weekly that he came up with the $4 million estimate just two days before the memorial at the behest of city officials and LA Inc. — the Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau.
“We had to put our heads together very quickly,” Kyser says. “So we put together an estimate on people traveling to the city, use of hotels, limos, shopping, and who would come in on private planes. We came up with a rough estimate before the memorial. We were asked to do this very, very quickly.”
It now appears likely that the city received little net benefit for its $3.2 million investment in what later became a 90-minute TV show featuring Jackson. Kyser’s estimate was not broken down in a spreadsheet or even a stand-alone report. It was forwarded to city officials as an e-mail. “He didn’t give us a document,” says June Gibson, the city’s assistant chief legislative analyst. “He just provided an e-mail of the estimate and how he arrived at that estimate.”
When the Weekly asked for a copy of the e-mail, Gibson said “yes” before checking with a superior and then changing that to a “no.” “If you want the information, you would have to submit a Public Records Act request,” she said. The Weekly filed its request on November 25 and has yet to hear back from her boss, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller.
Kyser’s estimate was made when city officials, particularly Los Angeles police brass, were bracing for as many as a million fans in the streets around Staples Center, where the 90-minute function was opened to holders of 17,500 free tickets.
The issue of who should pay for a pricey memorial held by AEG, a private firm controlled by billionaire Philip Anschutz, has become a hot topic because the city is strapped for cash and faces an estimated deficit of $400 million next year. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has vowed to recover the city’s memorial costs — mostly policing and officers’ overtime — and Councilman Dennis Zine says he has a commitment from AEG to pitch in.
The company had been preparing to stage Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” show in London, when the singer suddenly died. The memorial became a television special broadcast live around the world.
Even before the tribute, AEG leaked footage of Jackson rehearsing for his 50-date London showcase. That footage ended up being the backbone of a blockbuster, $200 million–grossing concert film, This Is It, in which AEG has a 10 percent stake.
One question has been, Who benefited more from the memorial: AEG, which would reap profits from the world’s continued fascination with Jackson (31 million people worldwide viewed the memorial on television), or city businesses, thanks to Jackson-related tourism in this depressed economy?
Kyser says he based his $4 million estimate more on the hoped-for spending by high-dollar celebrities who would come to town, stay at posh hotels, fly in on expensive charter planes and eat at high-end restaurants while mourning Jackson. Many of the celebrities listed as official guests, however, already live in or near L.A.
Meanwhile, LA Inc. itself stated that hotels and restaurants downtown would reap $1.2 million. That number was presumably included in Kyser’s larger estimate.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there was little basis for these estimates. LA Inc.’s own hotel-occupancy figures found that stay-over rates in Los Angeles during July actually dropped by 9.5 percent over July 2008, despite the purported influx of guests who came for Jackson’s memorial.
Although down from the previous year, a sizable amount of the July 2009 hotel business can be attributed to the July 2–5 Anime Expo, a celebration of Japanese animated film, which brought an estimated 44,000 people to the L.A. Convention Center near Staples. Its official hotel was the Bonaventure.
Officials at Santa Monica airport, a hub for celebrities arriving in their private jets, says there wasn’t a big increase in air traffic for the Jackson memorial: “When the Michael Jackson event happened, we didn’t really see a huge increase in aircraft here,” says Airport Director Robert D. Trimborn. “It didn’t tax us very much at all.”
One worker at a popular restaurant at L.A. Live, the complex adjacent to Staples, reports that the night before and the night of the memorial were “dead.”