Even as new and renovated concert venues have reshaped the market for local concert bookings, two major venues – the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City and the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium – shuttered last year.

The auditorium could eventually reopen and L.A.’s Nederlander Concerts still wants to bring concerts there. Nederlander had been on the verge of scoring a major contract to manage and promote the facility, but now it could see that contract go to another concert promoter as the city mulls its options.

The 6,000-seat Gibson and the 3,000-seat auditorium both closed their doors to public performances last year, thus falling off the Business Journal’s annual list of performing arts venues. (See page 14.) The Gibson shut down for good as NBC Universal plans to demolish it to make way for a Harry Potter-themed attraction at its Universal Studios.

But it’s last year’s decision by Santa Monica to halt concerts at the 55-year-old auditorium that could hit Nederlander hard. The closure came after the city lost redevelopment funds it had planned to use to renovate the aging, earthquake-damaged facility. Since July, the auditorium is only been allowed to host community meetings and private events.

Just three years ago, Nederlander was close to finalizing a five-year exclusive contract to bring programming to the auditorium, known for appearances by Frank Sinatra and Eric Clapton. The deal was contingent on the city using $52 million in redevelopment dollars to renovate the facility. Now, with the loss of those redevelopment dollars, that deal is gone and the city is pondering what to do with the venue.

The city has also reached out to three of Nederlander’s rivals: AEG Live of downtown Los Angeles, LiveNation Worldwide Inc. of Beverly Hills and the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

“Our interest in the auditorium has not waned,” Alex Hodges, Nederlander chief executive, told the Business Journal last week. “But, of course, we would be concerned if the project were awarded to another promoter.”

The city has also contacted developers such as Caruso Affiliated and Related Cos. of California to see if the auditorium could become the centerpiece of a cultural district at the Civic Center.

“We are working through a process of exploring uses, vetting costs and funding options,” said Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager for Santa Monica. “We want to have the auditorium serve as the hub of a mixed-use cultural district.”

Cusick said that the city committee charged with exploring such options has reached out to any groups or companies that might have a future interest in operating the venue. She added that the committee is expected to submit its recommendations to the city by the middle of next year.

Nederlander’s Hodges said that he believes the work his company did three years ago in preparing its bid should give his company an advantage if bidding is reopened.

“We had great interest at that time and with the effort we put in, we can rely on that as a resource for the next step,” he said.

New downtown venue

Meanwhile, Nederlander is seizing on a new opportunity in downtown Los Angeles. Last month, a 1,600-seat performing arts venue opened at the new Ace Hotel at Ninth Street and Broadway. The Portland, Ore., hotel chain spent two years renovating a theater built in 1927 for the just-formed United Artists studio.

“The Theatre at Ace Hotel will be an artist-driven mix of film, music, art and cultural programming,” Kelly Sawdon, Ace Hotel partner, said in a statement.

On Feb. 20, LA Dance Project opened the theater, which is an open venue where any concert promoter can stage a show. That’s in contrast with halls such as downtown L.A.’s Nokia Theatre, which only accepts bookings from the AEG Live concert promotion arm of entertainment and sports giant Anschutz Entertainment Group.

“We see the Theatre at Ace Hotel as an exciting new venue for booking acts,” Hodges said, “especially new acts that we hope will eventually move on to some of our larger venues.”

The Business Journal expanded this year’s list and added the Theatre at Ace Hotel, Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Alex Theatre in Glendale, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood and Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach.

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