Will tax push chase away shows?

12:12 AM, Jun. 19, 2012
Written by Erica Felci, The Desert Sun

Council members fear peer's initiative spurring promoter to rethink land buy

Goldenvoice is rethinking its plans to buy 280 acres in Indio — including the Eldorado Polo Club — amid talk that city residents could implement a tax on the music festival tickets.

Negotiations over the purchase, unveiled in March, haven't been scrapped.

But two City Council members familiar with the negotiations said Monday that the Los Angeles- based promoter that puts on the wildly successful Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals is now hesitant to make such a financial commitment in the desert.

A big part for the reservations, the council members said, is Indio Councilman Sam Torres' effort to implement a 6 percent ticket tax on future Goldenvoice productions.

“It's falling apart,” Indio Glenn Miller, who is in regular contact with both the music promoter and land owners, said of the property deal.

“Once they purchase property, they're here to stay. Their business isn't polo. Their business is entertainment. I'm sure (the tax proposal) is weighing very heavily on them.”

Goldenvoice's plans to purchase land in Indio was seen as a way to ensure the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, launched in 1999, would remain here indefinitely.

If the deal falls through, Miller and Mayor Pro Tem Elaine Holmes said they're concerned it opens the door for another community to try and secure the popular concerts for a different venue.

“There's competition for this,” Holmes said. “Other venues are very eager to support this concert. We always want to be aware this could be a possibility.”

Goldenvoice Vice President Skip Paige declined to discuss the land negotiations Monday.

“I'm not going to comment on any speculation,” Paige said. “It's a private matter.”

Paul Tollett, Goldenvoice president and co-founder of Coachella, has always insisted the desert atmosphere is an integral part of the festival's success.

“Once you hit the windmills, the festival starts,” Tollett has previously told The Desert Sun.

The idea of taxing tickets to the multi-day, multi-stage music festivals — which draw 50,000 to 75,000 people a weekend — has been quietly discussed for some time.

But it really took off in late May, when Torres began championing a plan that would add about $18 to every concert ticket.

Torres' plan hasn't gotten any support from his council colleagues, so Torres is now trying to get enough resident signatures so he can put it on the November ballot.

If approved, Torres believes it could generate about $4 million for the city — a notable increase from the $830,000 that the city currently makes off of the ticket sales and camping sites.

Torres downplayed the idea of Goldenvoice leaving the desert as “saber rattling.”

“Obviously, that's a corporate decision for them. They're going to go to where they can make the most money,” he said. “I hate to think it's a punishment to the city of Indio because we're asking the question.”

It's not publicly known how long Goldenvoice is contractually obligated to stay in the desert.

The promoter has a long-term lease with the Empire Polo Grounds, but the terms have never been disclosed.

Last year, Indio officials negotiated a two-year contract that allowed the promoters to expand Coachella to two consecutive weekends.

The deal ends after the 2013 concerts, but Miller and Holmes hope the city can ink at least a 10-year deal after that and further solidify their partnership.

“We're hoping we can work with them to come up with a positive solution,” Miller said. “We will be a willing partner.”

Whether Goldenvoice will move forward with such a commitment if the land purchase falls through is the big unknown.

But Indio City Manager Dan Martinez said he doesn't think the property purchase is a make-or-break part of the producer's commitment to the desert.

“The dialogue we're having with Goldenvoice is very positive,” Martinez said of the early talks for a long-term deal.

“They've been here a decade and a half almost without buying it. They don't have to buy it in order to remain here for another decade.”

The proposed land purchase includes lots between Avenues 50 and 52 and Monroe and Madison.

Goldenvoice also consolidated the 200-acre Eldorado Polo Club, which sits on property owned by 19 individuals, with land from Triangle Bear Farms, Fish Creek and land owned by Glen Holden, former U.S. ambassador to Jamaica.

The land has been used for camping sites and parking during the April concerts.

The actual stages are set up on the neighboring 175-acre Empire Polo Club.

It was not disclosed how much Goldenvoice was paying for the land, which would provide opportunities for smaller concerts or wine and jazz festivals.

Officials did say Eldorado club's members still will be allowed to have equestrian events on the property during the polo season, from January to March.

Eldorado general manager Jan Hart said she was not aware of any snags in sale negotiations.

A message left for the property owners wasn't returned Monday.

“At the end of the day, Goldenvoice didn't feel like they had the total support for their presence here in Indio,” said Holmes, who has had contact with Goldenvoice's top officials.

“There was enough of an issue made (with the tax plan) that Goldenvoice wasn't comfortable with the level of commitment. It's certainly not the way I feel about it.

“Having Goldenvoice in our city, it's a tremendous benefit to Indio and the Coachella Valley. I'm very sorry that this potential purchase is in jeopardy.”

Next year's Coachella concerts will again be over two consecutive weekends in April. The first batch of passes sold out in two hours, but additional tickets are expected to go on sale after the lineup is announced.

Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival is traditionally the following weekend.

Torres said he didn't think the tax idea would be a breaking point in the land deal since it's a tax on concert-goers and not the corporation itself.

He said he's reached out to Goldenvoice several times in recent months to no avail.

“It's not meant to be a punitive thing against Goldenvoice. We're not dipping into Goldenvoice's pocket,” Torres said.

“This is not greed. This is not anything against them. It's survival for the city of Indio.”