By Andrew Herrmann and Jim DeRogatis
Days after C3 Presents staged the election night celebration here for Barack Obama, officials announced Thursday a plan to allow the Austin, TX-based promoters to continue the three-day Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park for at least 10 more years.
Chicago Park District Supt. Tim Mitchell said the proposed contract calls for festivals from 2009 to 2018. But if Chicago is picked to host the Olympics in 2016, Lollapalooza will be cancelled and the concert organizers will then be able to add additional concerts to the end of the contract.
The new deal, likely to be approved by the district board Nov. 12, gives the park district a bigger cut of some revenues, Mitchell said.
C3 currently is two years into a five-year contract for Lollapalooza, signed in 2006, in which C3 was represented by attorney Mark Vanecko, a nephew of Mayor Daley. Asked if Vanecko played any role in negotiating the new extended deal with the district, Mitchell said, "absolutely not."
Neither Vanecko nor C3 executives responded to requests for comment.
The increasingly powerful promoters also won a city contract last year to bring a wide range of events to Soldier Field during the Bears' offseason, though they have yet to deliver anything. Additionally, they forged an agreement to book acts at the Congress Theatre; have expressed interest in bidding to host concerts at Northerly Island when the current contract with Live Nation expires next year, and have said they hope to play a major role in staging events for the Olympics if they come here in 2016.
Under the current Lollapalooza agreement, which runs through 2011, the park district gets 8.5 percent of revenues, including sponsorships, or a minimum fee (this year it was $950,000), whichever is higher. This summer the district made $1.6 million.
Under the proposed extended deal, the district will get 10.25 of gross revenues, such as tickets and beer sales, but its take on sponsorships will remain at 8.5 percent. The minimum next year is $1 million, and it will increase by $50,000 each year after that, Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the district and C3 Presents made the new deal because both sides have been happy with the festival, which began its exclusive Chicago run in 2005. Mitchell said he suggested making the contract longer when Lollapalooza presented the district with a $1.6 million check several months ago.
"[When] we saw how successful it's been, I said to [C3 partner] Charlie Jones, 'Why don't we do a longer deal? I'd be willing to do a 10-year deal,'" Mitchell said. "I've been very happy not only with how professional they've been but also very happy with the results."
The agreement does not change the length or size of the festival, which drew about 225,000 people last August, Mitchell said. He added: "The fact that they did Lollapalooza was part of the reason that the Barack Obama rally was done by them. The Obama people wanted to have a huge festival on a grounds where these people have staged a very successful event for years."
Many local Chicago concert promoters and venue owners have expressed frustration about the way Lollapalooza has impacted the local music community, signing exclusive radius clauses prohibiting the acts it books from playing anywhere else in the area for a total of as much as six months before and after the festival. Promoters also have criticized the city for not putting the Grant Park rock festival out to bid.
Mitchell said the district was not obligated to solicit bids from other companies. "We don't have to bid this out: it's a three-day festival. There's 25 more weekends someone can come and say we want to have a festival. Anyone can do a concert in Hutchinson Field if they pay a $250,000 fee."
Mitchell said the district bottom line is "we've negotiated a larger percentage of ownership" under the Lollapalooza agreement. In the event the festival becomes less popular, C3 will still be required to pay the district the minimum fee, Mitchell said, though he didn't think Lollapalooza would lose its luster.
"Chicagoans seem to like festivals. Music is always changing," he said.
The extended deal has the support of the park's citizen watchdog group, the Grant Park Conservancy. "This will mean that over $15 million will be generated and used for park projects around the city," said the group's Bob O'Neill, though he granted that residents in the area have complained about noise and congestion caused by the concert.
"The only way we can mitigate the tension with residents is to show them the improvements to Grant Park that come directly from Lollapalooza," O'Neill said. "At the same time, we need to balance the large crowds and make sure this is done like it was this week [at the Obama celebration]. We need to continue to reduce the tension from crowds on residents by improving the park and making sure that those who use it respect it and take pride in it as Chicago's front yard to the world."
The Grant Park Conservancy released the following information about a meeting Monday to discuss the new Lollapalooza deal:
Eyes around the world are on Grant Park:
Lollapalooza proposed ten-year contract.
When: Monday, November 10th, 2008 at 6:30pm
Where: Daley Bicentennial Plaza - 337 E. Randolph just east of Columbus Drive in Grant Park's fieldhouse.
We apologize for the short notice.