The honeymoon between Burbank and the new manager of the troubled Starlight Amphitheatre may not be over, but the marriage appears to have gotten off to a somewhat rocky start.
Tim Pinch, a concert promoter and producer tentatively selected by City Council last month to operate the city-owned outdoor theater, is trying to work out a formal contract with the city to operate the theater next year. But he says preliminary discussions have not gone as smoothly as he had hoped.
Meanwhile, city officials are expressing uneasiness with what they say is Pinch's inflexibility in four contractual areas they think are critical in order to protect the city financially.
Pinch complained that officials are being overcautious in their insistence on an audience limit at performances and have not been open to extending a one-year contract to as long as 15 years if he is able to turn the amphitheater's fortunes around.
Officials, on the other hand, have said Pinch is being inflexible in resisting the scheduling of a "balanced program" of musical and community events, said City Atty. Doug Holland. The officials also imply that Pinch wants the city to at least partly subsidize the theater's operation. And the city wants to retain the right to terminate Pinch's contract if it is not happy with his program choices.
The dispute surrounding preliminary contract negotiations came to light earlier this week when Pinch made a surprise appearance before Burbank City Council. Mayor Mary Lou Howard, taken aback by Pinch's request to address the council, reminded him that he was still negotiating the contract. Pinch said he wanted a council member to sit in on negotiations with officials.
Feeling Out Council
"I just want to make sure that I know where the council stands," Pinch said. "I just feel like my shoelaces are being tied while I'm being asked to run a race."
Pinch said in an interview this week that he felt city officials are being overly cautious with him because of past failures of promoters. The Starlight has been a boondoggle to the city and the subject of continuing controversy.
Contract negotiations are starting while the city is pursuing an appeal of a $4.6-million judgment against it by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury, which found that the First Amendment rights of a promoter were violated when he was prevented by the city from staging rock concerts at the Starlight during the 1970s.
"I can understand why the city is being careful, and I don't blame them," Pinch said. "But I'm not those other promoters who failed. I just want a chance."
Of most concern to Pinch and the city are the traffic and noise that have caused residents near the amphitheater to complain. The city wants a limit of 4,000 spectators for events at the amphitheater, which can seat 6,000. Pinch said he can help solve the problems by instituting a park-and-ride program with satellite parking lots.
Pinch added that, if he is able to stage a successful season at the Starlight next summer, the city should give him a 12- to 15-year lease on the Starlight. "I've heard from people in the industry that that's the standard contract length if I can turn things around," he said.
City officials and Pinch agreed Tuesday to continue negotiating. Holland and Pinch's attorney will also participate in the discussions. Officials said they hope to have the contract completed next month, when it will come back to the council for final approval.