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Picking up the pieces before dropping the ball

Promoter of O.C. New Year's party had trouble finding a venue, and now a competing event is adding to his worries.

December 28, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

Rich Goodwin is relieved this year that he's going to get to drop the ball.

Make that the orange.

Goodwin, producer of Orange County New Year's Eve, the outdoor celebration featuring the midnight descent of an illuminated orange, has run into trouble at nearly every turn trying to find a venue this year.

After a half-year search that has pitted him against the Orange County Fairgrounds and city and county officials, Goodwin finally found a home at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, just weeks before the New Year.

The event, expected to attract thousands, features the bands Third Eye Blind, the Psychedelic Furs and Eek-A-Mouse.

Now his ordeal has spiraled into a fight with another promoter whom Goodwin contends has set up a copycat event at the fairgrounds.

"We consider ourselves the official party," Goodwin said. "I'm not trying to ruffle any feathers, but people have been misled," he said.

Nick Bartlett, promoter of the new Mardi Gras Carnivale at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, dismissed the idea that he was mimicking Goodwin.

Bartlett's event, featuring the bands Louis XIV and the Donnas, is also expected to draw thousands.

Goodwin wanted to return to the fairgrounds for a third annual celebration this year, but he abandoned his plans when he couldn't cut a deal there, moving it to Oaks Blenheim Event Center just outside San Juan Capistrano.

But when officials there learned they were the new hosts of what could be the county's largest New Year's gathering, they were determined to keep it away, opposing it for noise and safety reasons.

"This wasn't the Pacific Symphony, these were all rock bands," said Councilman Sam Allevato.

"We would have been dumping all these intoxicated people onto Ortega Highway, a winding two-lane road. We just didn't want to do that."

Earlier this month, Orange County New Year's Eve promoters learned that Oaks Blenheim Event Center didn't have the proper permits for an event with thousands of people, and the deadline to apply already had passed.

That pressed Goodwin to find a new venue just weeks before year's end. He secured Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine early this month.

But as the New Year draws closer, the producer is struggling to break even, scrapping plans to donate a portion of ticket revenues to charity.

Goodwin had hoped to turn a profit this year after losing money on his first two New Year's events. In 2005, the show was nearly rained out. Decorations washed away. A video screen crashed to the ground. The rain fizzled speakers. Beer lines were long and disorderly. The second year went better, but he still lost money.

This year, as Goodwin watched another promoter set up a similar event at the fairgrounds, he called foul.

Goodwin sent the fairgrounds a cease-and-desist letter after he learned that the new event, calling itself Orange County Rockin' New Year's Eve, was promoting a ball drop. His lawyer sent a letter to Bartlett saying the name of his party was too similar, so Bartlett changed the name of his event. In addition, Goodwin said he had a patent on his event's signature orange drop.

The two sides agree that the dueling events could lead to confusion.

Mardi Gras Carnivale calls itself the West Coast's largest New Year's Eve party.

Orange County New Year's Eve claims to be the county's official New Year's Eve celebration, a designation it gave itself, spokeswoman Diana Baylor said.

Goodwin said there was "clear deception going on."

"They were trying to grab up all our MySpace friends. They were taking my dream and trying to capitalize on it, knowing that the third year was going to be the most profitable."

Bartlett said that was hardly the case.

"He's not the only one who ever put on a New Year's Eve show," he said, adding that being mistaken for Goodwin's event has been more of a hindrance than a help.

"I didn't want it to be associated with what they did the last two years, because they didn't do well," he said.

The only imitation going on is the choice of Dec. 31 as the party date, Bartlett said wryly.

"I think it's desperate on their part to say we've taken something from them," he said.

And besides, Bartlett said, the midnight lights and fireworks display he's organizing is far from what he is allegedly copying.

"It's the exact opposite of a ball drop," he said. "Ours goes up."

--

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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