Answer to Murat's naming-rights fight likely to be found in lease

March 30, 2010

Live Nation's legal right to rename the Murat Shrine Center might boil down to nothing more than whether the company's lease with the Shriners gives it the right to put up signs.

The Murat Temple Association, a Shriners affiliate that owns the iconic building at 502 N. New Jersey St. in Indianapolis, is suing Live Nation and Old National Bank over a naming-rights deal announced March 16.

In its suit, filed March 26 in Marion County Circuit Court, the association argues that its lease with Live Nation does not include the right to rename the Murat Shrine Center. The lease, which dates back to 1995, covers the parts of the complex used as an an entertainment venue, including the Murat Theatre and and the Mosque Building, which houses the Egyptian Room.

In announcing its naming-rights deal with Evansville-based Old National, Live Nation said the Murat as a whole would be named "Old National Centre," while venues inside the complex, especially the 2,500-seat, 101-year-old Murat Theatre and Egyptian Room, would keep their original names.

The association is seeking an injunction to remove the new sign for "Old National Centre" over the Murat's marquee, plus damages. The Shriners argue that the renaming casts them in a poor light because the general public may think it brings some financial benefit to the not-for-profit fraternal organization.

Live Nation representatives did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment about the case.

"I was amazed that two people think so diametrically about what the rights are under the lease," said Jeff Abrams, partner in charge of the Indianapolis office for Benesch Law. Abrams has been one of the city's topcommercial real estate attorneys for more than a decade.

If Live Nation had been his client, Abrams said he would have simply looked at the lease to see what's allowed. "In every good lease, there's always a provision dealing with signs."

The lease does deal with signs, as well as improvements to the building. However, the Murat Temple Association lawsuit does not cite those provisions. Instead, it focuses on the fact that the lease does not offer the right to rename the entire multibuilding facility, which includes several areas the Shriners continue to use.

The lawsuit also names Old National Bank, accusing the bank of improperly entering into a naming-rights agreement without regard the Shriners' objections  

Plaintiff's attorney Bryce Bennett said Old National was included because the bank never determined whether Live Nation's lease included the right to sell naming rights.

The suit says the Shriners first contacted Live Nation's local general manager, Terry Hennessey, by letter in January to warn against changing the facility's name. On March 16, association President Craig Hinshaw sent Hennessey another letter, which was copied to Old National CEO Bob Jones, warning him that the association considered the renaming a violation of the lease.

Randy Reichmann, Old National's CEO for the Indianapolis region, said he wasn't sure what steps the bank took to determine Live Nation's rights. He said he was surprised to learn that the Shriners objected to the renaming.

"Our intention is to push forward," Reichmann said Tuesday morning. "We've got a valid contract with LIve Nation, and we're going to let them work out the issues with the Shriners."

The Murat Temple Association originally struck the 100-year lease with Murat Centre LP, an entity controlled by Dave Lucas and Sunshine Promotions Inc. on Sept. 1, 1995. At the time, the Murat’s historic buildings were in desperate need of renovation, and Lucas’ company agreed to do the work in partnership with the city of Indianapolis. The renovation cost more than $12 million. The annual rent paid under the lease is $50,000.

Live Nation, a spinoff of Clear Channel, inherited the lease after a series of acquisitions.

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