Neighbors nervous about new Gleason operator
By Charlotte Libov
Now that Live Nation is the winner to take over Miami Beach's Jackie Gleason Theater for the Performing Arts, some residents and businesses are worried that the performances offered by the music-oriented promoter will draw a predominantly young crowd that could prove detrimental to nearby businesses.
At a meeting last week, the Miami Beach City Commission voted to give Live Nation a 15-year lease to run the 2,700-seat city-owned theater. The Los Angeles company is the country's largest concert promoter. It owns, operates or has booking rights for more than 150 venues worldwide.
The decision came after Cirque du Soleil, once considered the leading contender to assume operations at the theater, pulled out of consideration hours before the meeting at which Live Nation beat out AEG Live, its rival in the concert industry.
"I'm very, very pleased with the way things wound up," Mayor David Dermer said a few days after the vote. "What a lot of people have forgotten was that the Gleason was dark, we were losing $1 million a year, and now it's going to be lit and operated by the biggest operation in the world. It's a great day for the City of Miami Beach."
Live Nation offered $1 million annual rent for 15 years, with modest annual increases, winning out over AEG's offering of a base rent of $250,000.
Mr. Dermer said the city will negotiate with Live Nation in hopes of bringing the commission a contract before the end of the year. A majority vote is needed for passage.
Mr. Dermer said he didn't think the city needed to issue a request for proposals, which had been broached as a motion earlier in the meeting, since the two large entertainment companies already were bidding.
Commissioner Saul Gross said Live Nation offered the city a "much, much" better deal.
"They agreed to pay for all the maintenance of the facility, for the roof and air conditioning, which the city estimated would be $1 million over 10 years. There was less emphasis on the naming rights, plus Live Nation didn't ask for a termination clause and AEG did. So it was finally clear that Live Nation was better."
He said he believed the company would bring a "fresh" look to the Gleason and its programming would not be out of line with residents' wishes.
"I liked their presentation very much," said Commissioner Matti Herrera Bower. "The deal with Live Nation was so much better."
Commissioner Luis Garcia, who cast the sole opposing vote, didn't agree. "I think the city jumped the gun," he said.
"I wasn't voting against the company. I think that if we could have made a better deal, we should have made a better deal," he said. "If you can get two companies in a bidding war, that's the way to go."
The panel's decision to grant Live Nation the contract on the spot did not sit well with some Miami Beach residents and business owners. They complained the selection came only days after the proposals had been made public and that the city neither issued a request for proposals nor required the companies to compete.
"Our first concern was that if the Cirque deal went through, the theater would have been closed for renovations for two years, and that would be really tough for Lincoln Road," said David Kelsey, president of the South Beach Hotel and Restaurant Association and a former music producer who worked with superstar groups such as the Doors and Jefferson Airplane.
"With the high rent, we would have lost some restaurants," he said. "So everybody was relieved when Cirque pulled out."
Once that happened, though, Mr. Kelsey said, AEG would have showcased variety and "put the Gleason back on the map the way that Jackie Gleason did originally."
He also is concerned that Live Nation's plan to rename the theater The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Incredible Jackie Gleason Theatre may not sit well with local residents. "The Fillmore is associated with 1960s acid rock. You want to bring that to the Gleason?
"Live Nation is going with a younger rock crowd almost exclusively, and some of them will go to Lincoln Road. But generally, the Lincoln Road patron is older and willing to spend more, and younger people are not," he said.
Marvin Silverman, a promoter in Hawaii and Las Vegas before becoming an owner of Carnevale Restaurant on Lincoln Road, agreed.
"Last Saturday night, we had a show at the Gleason, and Lincoln Road was very busy," he said. If the Gleason does attract a young crowd, it could be detrimental to fellow business owners there, he said. "That's what should be talked about instead of just dollars and cents. If you get somebody in a deal that they are paying so much in rent that they might have to put in something against the desires of the residents — like a hip-hop show — you'll have to live with it," Mr. Silverman said.
Said Roger Abramson, a candidate for a seat on the Miami Beach City Commission who once ran music theaters in Boston and managed such acts as Pure Prarie League and the James Gang: "The way this has been handled is distasteful. The commission and others should have gotten together and decided what vision we wanted and put out (a request for proposals).
"In a city like Miami Beach, we don't want to be a tool for somebody's agenda," said Mr. Abramson, "and I feel that's how it is with Live Nation. They want to control the South Florida market and expand their brand by putting Fillmores in other parts of the country."
He said Live Nation also owns the Sound Advice Amphitheater in West Palm Beach and has the contract to bring Broadway shows to the Carnival Center. "My background is rock-and-roll, but people here don't want a rock-and-roll ballroom. These guys are willing to put in 150 shows a year, and that's great, but why do they have to have a mosh pit?"
Live Nation plans to remove some seats from the theater.
Bruce Eskowitz, Live Nation's president and CEO of Global Venues and Alliances, strove to dismiss the concerns. Although the company does plan to remove some seats, he said, the conclusion that a mosh pit will be created is a "gross mischaracterization.
"It's not going to be a mosh pit. We're trying to make the building more functional for more kinds of shows. This is being done to give the theater more flexibility, so this way we might have a standing-room-only area, but we also may want to put the seats back or bring in tables or use it to create a cabaret-style show," he said.
He said Live Nation plans to keep the Broadway shows at the Carnival Center. But regarding the other programming, he said, "Nothing is set in stone, and everything is up to the city.
"We have private-public partnerships with New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Las Vegas, and we are good partners. We have a great desire to bring a wide variety of music and comedy into the venue and also to let residents use it as well," he said.
"I think you'll find we bring a wide variety of acts. At the meeting, we talked about bringing in Tony Bennett to Beck to John Legend. You're not going to find one type of audience. We are going to serve what looks like the audience of Miami Beach," he said.
"We've done Broadway shows for 25 years, and they don't attract an audience. They are going to the newer facility. It doesn't mean there will never be a show like that again, but times change, and you have to keep up with the best use of the buildings for the times. We believe we have the formula to make the building appeal to all the residents of Miami Beach."
Ms. Bower said she will strive to get the community the entertainment programming it wants. But, she said, "I think it will be different, and it will be for a younger crowd. The Jackie Gleason that was is no longer."