A world-class music venue is poised to nest in the foothills of Downtown Ventura. All that remains is approval from the City Council.
The Ventura Botanical Gardens (VBG), in association with music industry heavy weight and local business owner Mark Hartley and Nederlander Productions, have proposed a June through October concert series in the upper parking lot behind city hall that overlooks the ocean. A 1,900-capacity tent, akin to the tents at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, would be erected during the concert season. The series, the proposal states, is designed to attract awareness to the botanical gardens, as well as be a revenue stream for the cultural affairs and public arts commission on the direct sale of every ticket.
The venue operations would be a near-replica of that of other Nederlander venues, such as the Santa Barbara Bowl and the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. A bike valet and shuttles to and from the venue would also be a part of the attraction.
“It would be at the entrance to where the botanical gardens begin,” said Hartley, whose management company Fitzgerald-Hartley has a roster ranging from Brad Paisley to Colbie Caillat and Robert Cray. “It’s branding — if you talk about other Nederlander operations in terms of advertising, Ventura will be on there. We don’t have anything like that.”
Headquartered in Los Angeles, Nederlander produces live entertainment throughout the Western United States, promoting headlining talent in outdoor amphitheaters and arenas to attract a capacity far exceeding any venue in Ventura County.
“I think the model, as it has been laid out, is going to be huge for Ventura,” said Moss Jacobs, vice president of talent at Nederlander Concerts and longtime area resident. “I know, for doing shows in the 805 area code for half of my life, that Ventura has a huge appetite for music. Nederlander thinks it’s a total fit for what we do.”
Both Hartley and Jacobs mentioned the economic impact the concert series would bring to the city. Downtown merchants, restaurants, bars, hotels and parking meters would likely receive a huge boost during the concert season.
But the city is not without its reservations. Concerns about fire, sound and parking have risen from the proposal, and officials still need reassurance before moving forward.
“It’s a fantastic idea, a win-win for downtown, the botanical gardens and Ventura as a whole,” said Councilman Brian Brennan. “But there are some issues that need to be looked at. I’d like to have those questions answered before we can make a solid decision.”
City Manager Rick Cole agreed. “It’s an intriguing idea, but it’s still preliminary and premature to speculate.”
To address the concerns, Hartley, Jacobs and the VBG would use the same safety precautions used by the Santa Barbara Bowl production team and at other Nederlander venues, with the same fire retardants, exiting plans, bike valet services, signage and restrooms.
“The Santa Barbara Bowl has neighbors right on top of it, more so than here,” said Hartley. “They’ve addressed sound with a strict curfew of 10 p.m., which is agreed to in the artists’ contracts, as well as sound levels.”
The nonprofit VBG has yet to begin construction, but last year the VBG signed a lease/option with the city for the 107 acres at Grant Park. The master plans illustrate five sections of botanical gardens linked by walking paths, and the gardens would eventually include an educational facility, amphitheater, picnic areas, telescopes, stone quarries and a cafe.
“This can raise money and awareness for the botanical gardens,” said Jacobs. “The gardens are a huge deal for us, our kids and our grandkids. One way to get it built is not only by getting money but raising awareness for charitable donations. A venue there addresses both awareness and fundraising.”
The proposal is slated to go before the City Council on March 5, 6 p.m. in Council Chambers, but is subject to change.