By Jessica Benda
After a severed partnership with Live Nation, Irvine is revising plans for an amphitheater in the Great Park — and it may spotlight the Pacific Symphony as its resident orchestra.
The envisioned 8,000- to 10,000-seat venue is intended to replace the temporary FivePoint Amphitheater, run by Live Nation, which filled the void after the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater closed in 2016. The city aims to open the new amphitheater by summer 2027, said Assistant City Manager Pete Carmichael.
Irvine had partnered with Live Nation on a 14,000-seat amphitheater proposal, which would have been designed by Live Nation and built by the city. The cost of that venue was projected to be as much as $130 million, with Live Nation contributing $20 million for construction and $3.5 million per year for its use, increasing 3% each year. Irvine councilmembers scrapped the collaboration in July during a lengthy meeting with plenty of resident opposition and after Live Nation offered a counter-proposal that involved a price increase of $20 million.
Carmichael said the split with Live Nation hasn’t hindered the timeline too much for opening some type of permanent venue.
“The difference is that they were well down the road in design and almost ready to move to construction drawings,” he said. “We’re backing that up and starting fresh in terms of a smaller facility, which has an in-house sound system and is operator-led rather than promoter-led.”
Los Angeles has the Greek Theatre. San Diego has the Rady Shell. Irvine leaders say they are hoping their new amphitheater can match those venues. Steve Torelli, manager of Great Park, said officials have been looking to those venues for research purposes, including operating strategies and booking policies. A feature that Irvine is prioritizing, he said, is an in-house speaker system to mitigate residential noise impacts, which was a prevalent concern with the now-scrapped Live Nation collaboration.
Though still in the early stages, the design team is also prioritizing the integration of the venue into the Great Park by taking advantage of the park views and amenities, such as the Great Meadow and lakes On the operations side, Torelli said they are focusing on a diverse group of promoters to bring in “culturally diverse acts and top-line talent.”
The Great Park Board, which is made up of councilmembers, also supported having City Manager Oliver Chi move forward with discussions of a formal partnership with the Pacific Symphony, which would designate it as Irvine’s resident orchestra. Irvine has been taking the symphony into account as it designs the space.
“We have spoken with the Pacific Symphony extensively to understand the design and operational needs that they have that might be added to help complement the general amphitheater programming,” Torelli said.
The recent board meeting’s public comment period was dominated by those affiliated with the orchestra, which is part of the prestigious League of American Orchestras. From veteran musicians to orchestra board members, the community voiced its support for the potential residency.
“What distinguishes the Pacific Symphony as a partner is our deep roots in Irvine. We are not a transient entity seeking profit. We are fully integrated in the community,” said John Evans, chairman emeritus of the Pacific Symphony, with 37 years on the board. “The Pacific Symphony stands ready to be your resident orchestra, your cultural partner and a steadfast supporter of Irvine’s artistic reputation.”
Chi is expected to return with a recommendation for a venue operator in the first quarter of 2024.
“The construction of this amphitheater is going to represent the single most significant public works project ever that the city has undertaken in its history,” Councilmember Tammy Kim said.
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