Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Live Nation and Verizon Wireless Music Center

2008 Verizon season likely as venue lures no buyer

June 11, 2007

Concert fans trekking to Noblesville this summer to see Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews Band or the Vans Warped Tour can leave their Deer Creek sentimentality at home.

This probably won't be the last opportunity to take in a concert at Verizon Wireless Music Center, the former Deer Creek. Many had expected the 2007 season would be the swan song for the popular amphitheater after venue owner Live Nation put the 203-acre property on the block in December.

But no acceptable offers have been received, and several local brokers say the unofficial asking price of more than $40 million is outrageous. They say there are too many barriers to redevelopment of the property and too much cheaper land nearby to justify the $200,000- to $250,000-per-acre price the owners want.

"The market will speak and tell them what it's worth," said Philo Lange, a broker with Indianapolis-based NAI Olympia Partners who is exploring the possible sale of several hundred acres near the venue. "They'll just have to decide whether they're a seller or not."

Lange called Live Nation's asking price "insane." The market as a whole apparently agrees.

"As of now, to my knowledge, there are no offers on the property," said Steve Finkel, the music center's general manager. "We're still operating as usual. Everything's for sale for the right price, and no one's come with an offer. We will continue to operate and that would include [booking for 2008]."

Many large concert venues, including Verizon, were built in rural areas on thencheap land now surrounded by thriving suburbs. Verizon sits near Exit 10 on Interstate 69, across the street from Hamilton Town Center and surrounded by newer subdivisions. The land seems prime for Los Angeles-based Live Nation's strategy to sell properties where redevelopment value outweighs the value as a concert venue.

Land prices have risen in the Exit 10 area, but not enough to justify the price Live Nation is seeking, said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear, who has discussed the property with potential developers. The land has several lakes on it and a creek running through, along with the amphitheater that would have to be torn down.

Ditslear said he'd prefer Live Nation add new uses to unlock the land's value without closing the venue, which was built in 1989 after Indianapolis denied plans for a downtown amphitheater.

"I think Verizon Music Center is a real asset to the city," Ditslear said. "I would love to work with them over time and attract complementary entertainment out there, and have them stay."

Live Nation is interested in selling only for redevelopment, not to another promoter, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a trade publication covering the concert industry. Bongiovanni expects the company will be willing to wait to get its asking price, which local brokers say is about $100,000-per-acre too optimistic.

So far, Live Nation has sold an amphitheater in Nashville, Tenn., and is exploring the sale of others in Columbus, Ohio, and Tinley Park, Ill. In a phone message, a corporate spokesman said no transaction has taken place for Verizon Wireless Music Center in Noblesville. A local CB Richard Ellis broker who is marketing the property did not return phone messages.

"Maybe they keep Indianapolis because they can't find anybody to come up with the money," Bongiovanni said.

The sale strategy is designed to generate cash for a company that has struggled since its 2005 separation from San Antoniobased Clear Channel. Another reason is a changing concert industry. These days, fewer acts sell enough tickets to justify shows at large venues such as Verizon, which has 6,000 reserved seats and room for up to 18,000 on the lawn.

Amphitheaters also provide only seasonal revenue and don't offer the tiered, highprice seating potential of enclosed venues. Smaller concert venues are in, and Live Nation is betting on that business. In Indianapolis, Live Nation manages shows at the Murat Centre and the Lawn at White River State Park.

The Lawn's lineup has been impressive of late, reflecting a general downsizing of venues in the industry, said Craig Pinkus, a veteran entertainment industry attorney and partner with locally based Bose McKinney & Evans.

And more competition could be coming in the small-venue category. Pinkus said several developers have expressed interest in building a concert venue in the Indianapolis area. One of the proposals, from locally based Premier Properties USA, calls for a 5,000-seat theater southwest of 86th Street and Keystone Avenue in a development called Woodfield Crossing.

Finkel, Verizon's general manager, is confident there always will be a place for live entertainment in Indianapolis. He's received an outpouring of support and stories from fans about their visits to the amphitheater.

"I'd have to tell them, 'Don't give up,'" Finkel said. "We're not going anywhere yet."
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