Annual Music Festival at Rose Bowl Approved By Pasadena City Council

For nearly two decades, the music festival capital of Southern California has been Indio, a city located 130 miles east of Pasadena. Each April, weekend-long extravaganzas known as Coachella and Stagecoach attract thousands from all over the country with live performances by popular artists and rising talent alike. But starting next year, local music aficionados may no longer have to make the two-hour trek into the desert to hear their favorite bands.
That’s because Pasadena’s City Council recently approved the Arroyo Seco Music and Arts Festival, a multi-day event that will be held in and around the Rose Bowl beginning June 2017.
“This is a critically important initiative that we believe is in the best interest of the Rose Bowl Operating Co. and the city,” said Rose Bowl CEO/General Manager Darryl Dunn. “Having the support of the City Council obviously was imperative to move forward. We’re very happy about it.”
Anschutz Entertainment Group, the parent company for Coachella and Stagecoach, has agreed to put on what will become an annual Pasadena festival. The deal includes a 10-year contract with the possibility of two five-year extensions on the back end if all goes well. Next summer’s debut of the weekend event will take place over the course of two days before becoming a three-day experience in subsequent years. While the aforementioned Indio music celebrations have traditionally catered toward a younger demographic, officials are branding the Arroyo Seco Music and Arts Festival as a more family-friendly environment. A spokesperson from AEG declined to comment specifically on the festival, but Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo explained what went into the company’s pitch.
“[AEG CEO] Paul Tollett and his team really delivered a proposal that I believe captured the essence of what we’re trying to achieve in the Arroyo Seco Music and Arts Festival,” Gordo said.
“What we quickly figured out was this has a lot of potential, but if we’re going to hold a Music and Arts Festival in Pasadena, it has to be unique. But it’s not sufficient that the Music and Arts Festival be unique. It has to be uniquely Pasadena. That was the message we gave to the proposers.”
The festival is expected to feature up to four music stages, which will be erected inside the stadium and on the surrounding Brookside Golf Course. A theater performance stage, art displays, carnival rides, concession stands and an array of cultural programming representative of Pasadena will also add to the entertainment of approximately 90,000 daily attendees — although that number will be limited to 75,000 in the first year.
“The focal point has been an older demographic — 30s and 40s — and trying to have it be multigenerational,” Dunn said. “I’ve brought my son to a few festivals. We may not listen to the same music all the time, but there is some overlap and I think that’s sort of the plan here, too.”
The idea for a music festival at the Rose Bowl originated in 2013, when Dunn and his associates were updating the stadium’s business plan following a major renovation project.
“We recognized that, really, we needed to identify another long-term, stable revenue source to put the Rose Bowl Operating Co. in a better, long-term, financial position,” said Dunn, who during that time had heard about a popular music festival in San Francisco called Outside Lands.
Dunn headed north to investigate with Rose Bowl Chief Operating Officer George Cunningham and Chief Financial Officer Jens Weiden. The trio came away impressed.
“We saw something that could potentially work for the Rose Bowl and Pasadena,” Dunn said.
From there, the Rose Bowl Operating Co. began discussions with promoters and gravitated toward AEG because the two parties had done business before. AEG owned the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team when it called the Rose Bowl home from 1996-2002. AEG’s proven track record running major music festivals also helped streamline negotiations.
“As we got to know them better, we became more and more comfortable, and felt like they were the right partner for us to make this successful in the long run,” said Dunn, who anticipates that the Music and Arts Festival will net somewhere between $90 million and $106 million over the life of the contract.
This influx of revenue should help mitigate potential cash-flow problems that may arise when the new NFL stadium opens in Inglewood in 2019.The $2-billion complex will not only be home to the Los Angeles Rams, it will undoubtedly represent an attractive option — in lieu of the Rose Bowl — for organizers of large-scale events in Southern California.
The Rose Bowl and Pasadena turned down the opportunity to host an NFL franchise during the mid-2000s, and have been searching for a third tenant to accompany UCLA football and the Tournament of Roses ever since.
“It represents the fulfillment of the commitment to find an alternative to the NFL,” said Gordo. “… The Music and Arts Festival will highlight everything that people love about Pasadena — great food, great art, world-class music, the Arroyo and, of course, the Rose Bowl stadium.”
The Rose Bowl Operating Co. estimates that each three-day festival will generate the same amount of revenue as five to seven of what Dunn likes to call “one-off events.” These include concerts such as the upcoming Beyoncé show on May 14, the Copa America international soccer tournament in June and the long-standing Rose Bowl Game that takes place every New Year’s Day.
Prior to the Music and Arts Festival announcement, a Pasadena ordinance had limited the number of these specialized events to 12 per year as a way to assuage neighboring residents. As City Council discussions about the festival gained momentum, neighborhood organizations voiced their concerns about how it would affect traffic management, noise levels and air quality, among others.
“The proposed Arroyo Seco Music and Arts Festival tentatively set to begin in June 2017 will have a substantial impact on all residents whose homes are adjacent to the Arroyo Seco,” wrote East Arroyo Residents Association President John Dean in a Feb. 19 letter to the Pasadena Planning and Community Development Department.
In response, the city of Pasadena prepared a 241-page Environmental Impact Report addressing the various concerns. The council also voted to raise the yearly event cap to 15 as part of the approval, with each festival counting as three separate events.
“For the most part, the people who live around the Rose Bowl want to see the Rose Bowl successful,” said Dunn. “They just want their lives to be impacted as minimally as possible and they want events to be managed well. … That’s our goal, too.”
Unlike some other AEG-sponsored festivals, this one will not offer overnight camping. Offsite parking will be available at Parsons near Old Town, Pasadena City College, the Santa Anita Race Track and USC — with shuttles to and from the Rose Bowl. Attendees will be permitted to park in Lot H for the inaugural festival next June, but the tentative plan is for that location to house an additional stage starting in 2018.
“We’re going to be sitting down in the near future with AEG and developing our process of communications,” said Dunn. “Now that it’s been approved, we’ve got to get more involved in the specific logistics.
“We think it’s an exciting opportunity and we’re very optimistic that it’s going to be a great event for everyone. We hope people will want to learn more about it as it gets closer.”

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