Come next year, the American Music Awards will move from the Shrine Auditorium to the Nokia Theater at L.A. Live news that bolsters the already successful downtown project, but is symptomatic of trouble ahead for some storied venues.
The handwriting has been on the wall for a handful of L.A.'s historic but hoary sports and entertainment arenas for some time: the massive and much-ballyhooed L.A. Live downtown development will be an 800-pound gorilla.
But as the arrival of Anschutz Entertainment Group's project grows closer the Eagles and Dixie Chicks will open L.A. Live's Nokia Theater on Oct. 18 and 20 there is a new sense of urgency for executives running the Forum, the Sports Arena, the Coliseum and the Shrine Auditorium.
"Of all the venues, the Shrine is probably the most under threat it's a large, beautiful house with a lot of history but parking is an issue and if you want to do things afterward, you are limited by the area," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.
Kyser said that L.A. Live's anchor hotel, when it opens in 2010, will boast the city's largest ballroom, a draw for post-awards festivities that will take more business from the Shrine and other venues.
The 101-year-old Shrine Auditorium is home to the Emmys, the MTV Movie Awards and the BET Awards. None of those awards shows has indicated it will bolt for the 7,100-seat Nokia, but all would fit. The Shrine already has been hurt by the loss of the Oscars, which have a long-term home at the Kodak Theater at Hollywood and Highland, and the Grammys, which have moved to Staples.
Others, particularly the indoor arenas, are seeing tough times, too.
All have lost major sports teams and the accompanying revenue over the years, departures that also left behind left big scheduling holes. The Sports Arena lost the Clippers to the Staples Center and USC's basketball team moved to the school's new Galen Center. The Coliseum has been trying to lure an NFL team since the Raiders left in 1995. The WNBA's Sparks and the NHL's Kings exited along with the Lakers from the Forum. Staples pulls in a lot of big concerts as well.
"You have a real competition going out there among the older venues," Kyser said. "AEG is basically saying any size of a venue, we've got it. It makes it very competitive, especially for those venues without easy freeway access."
The competition doesn't just come from the neighborhood the Home Depot Center in Carson draws many sporting events. Over the past five to seven years, management has been forced to become very aggressive in seeking acts and events.
As a result the venues home to Olympic competitions and the 1960 Democratic National Convention where John F. Kennedy accepted the presidential nomination have ended up with a odd variety of events, everything from mixed martial arts, raves and Mexican wrestling to religious events, swap meets, used car sales and soccer matches.
There's long been chatter about tearing down the Sports Arena first when Staples opened and there's more talk now with AEG in town.
"There's nothing planned in the immediate future, but (demolition) is something that's been talked about over the years," said Coliseum General Manager Pat Lynch. He added that the venues have had to "get very creative" in terms of booking and keeping busy, especially the Sports Arena, since USC football keeps the Coliseum active through the fall season.
Los Angeles' Fabulous Forum, as it was once known, is trying to change its fortunes after financial losses and a dispute with AEG, which sold the arena to the Faithful Central Bible Church for $22.5 million in 2000. The church has one of the state's largest congregations more than 8,000 members in the area and uses the 18,000-seat arena for Sunday services.
A lack of bookings a function AEG handled for the Forum until last year has kept the arena from covering its operational costs and turning a profit, according to Forum Enterprises attorneys, and the arena is still in the red.
Forum ownership filed a lawsuit last year alleging AEG failed to book enough acts at the arena and diverted potential business to Staples Center. The Forum seeks $5 million for lost revenue from potential bookings.
The Forum booked about 11 shows last year; to keep finances on track around 15 are required, representatives said. Settlement talks were continuing last week.
There are glimmers of hope for some of the venues planned renovations, development plans and new events.
The Shrine is hosting an American version of the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival, starting in December, and the festival's organizers are hoping to make the celebration an annual event. (It has been a fixture in France for 15 years.)
Shrine officials are turning to cultural and community-centered events such as Persian and Indian concerts and Korean ballet to keep busy year round.
"We are really turning back into the cultural center that we used to be," said Duke Collister, the Shrine's general manager. "Los Angeles has a population of more than 11 million people, there's plenty of room for everyone in entertainment."
The Hollywood Palladium will be out of the mix for the next year, as it closes this fall for a large scale overhaul. The theater is owned by Palladium Investors Ltd., a privately held group, which leased the 4,000-capacity venue in April to AEG competitor Live Nation Inc., the behemoth Los Angeles-based live entertainment company. Live Nation will undertake renovations to the theater after Morrissey plays the venue's final concert dates next month and reopen it in September 2008.
Although the Coliseum and Sports Arena are well situated to take advantage of a downtown resurgence, the aging arenas are both in need of upgrades to remain competitive. The Coliseum opened in 1923 and the Sports Arena was built in 1959.
Lynch, the Coliseums' general manager, said an overhaul is already being planned, and Coliseum officials are already talking with architectural firms to see what work can begin after USC's 2007 football season closes.
The Arena and Coliseum stage more than 200 events a year between the two, and Lynch said both venues are faring a little better today than several years ago as a result.
The Coliseum and Sports Arena have been in the black or about nearly so for the past decade and annual revenues average between $1 million and $2.5 million.
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