When Irvine Meadows Amphitheater closed last October, the future of live, large-scale music in Orange County was thrown into question. Despite the ample advanced notice of the local staple’s closing, many were skeptical about the county’s and Irvine’s commitment to continue book bands on as large of a level.
If you attended any of the final shows at Irvine Meadows, by the venue’s entrance was a makeshift sign where fans could jot down their memories, which was posted by FivePoint. The developer launched Save Live Music Irvine movement last year, and their efforts were rewarded with a dramatic 5-0 vote to build an interim amphitheater on approximately 45 acres on the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro base on a site adjacent to the Orange County Great Park.
The plan that had been quietly in the works since 2014 was the only quick solution to ensure that 2017 wouldn’t be devoid of live music. Working in conjunction with Southern California Live Nation, FivePoint’s original intent was to put together plans that would put a permanent venue in Irvine.
“It was very important for us to not have a season lost because my personal appeal was live music in Irvine,” Emile Haddad CEO of FivePoint Communities says. “My personal experience was when something like that goes away, people would forget about it. For us, we wanted to have a seamless transition between Irvine Meadows and the Great Park. Unfortunately, the Cultural Terrace has taken longer than we expected in terms of the city’s decision as what they want to see there.”
From Live Nation’s standpoint, replacing Irvine Meadows was an immediate priority. With years to plan ahead of its closure, the concert promoter explored numerous options. Bret Gallagher, president of Southern California Live Nation, says that they’ve been thinking about doing something on the Great Park. Working with FivePoint as a partner has made the process easier than anticipated.
“They’re the best partner we could hope for,” Gallagher says. “It’s the piece of land we always wanted. We were highly motivated – when we knew Irvine Meadows was going down — to keep live music alive in well in Orange County. The conversation always went back to doing something at Great Park. It was always our priority and our location of choice.”
In order to win the approval of the city council, the two companies worked on an air-tight proposal that would pass on its first opportunity. Unlike other public theatres, the two companies quickly decided that the best way to expedite its building was to fund it privately.
“A lot of people were probably surprised when I said we were going to provide the land and fund it with Live Nation,” Haddad says. “But it was the only solution.”
Haddad met with both the city council and the mayor in order to ensure that the potential risk of missing a concert season would be averted. With the amphitheater going on private land and the city not having to plunk down any cash, the companies made it as easy as possible for their proposal to pass.
“The challenge was getting something like this designed, approved by the city and built and inspected quickly,” the FivePoint CEO says. “We were moving at a pace faster than a lot of people who were supposed to be moving our plans were able to keep up with. The city got it done, Live Nation was a great partner and we’re very excited to open it up.”
“The city was tremendous in helping us move things forward,” Gallagher says. “Because of the relationship FivePoint has with being a staple in Irvine and what they’ve done, it helped us. Until the Cultural Terrace is flushed out, let’s not miss momentum and disappear in Irvine. We worked hard to get permitting and permissions for buildings for the temp site we have now. Our goal is a permanent amphitheater. It’s always the one long-term goal for the city and us.”
One of the more groan-worthy aspects of Irvine Meadows was its lack of proximity to non-congested roads and its overall parking situation. It was a haul to walk nearly a half mile from the furthest reaches of the parking lot to the seats, not to mention it’s lack of access for public transportation. That’s the major aspect that differs with FivePoint Amphitheatre. The venue’s front gate will be located approximately 490 steps (or a four minute walk) from the Amtrak/Metrolink train station, which will draw folks from Los Angeles and San Diego to the area, and will reduce traffic in and out of the facility. If attendees decide not to use public transportation, they won’t have to pay to get in as parking fees have been included in the ticket prices. Parking will be at the runways that haven’t been utilized on the property, and will have a total of 4,500 spaces.
Even with an abbreviated season, hopes are high for the launch of FivePoint Amphitheatre. With their local ties, Young the Giant — who played the final shows at Irvine Meadows with Gwen Stefani and Save Ferris — were tapped by Live Nation to open up the venue in style, with support from Long Beach favorites Cold War Kids. Despite the venue opening about five-and-a-half weeks later than planned, hopes are high that it will attract and garner the same respect than it’s larger predecessor. Gallagher says that it was imperative to book the Irvine-natives to open up the facility.
“Young the Giant was a no-brainer for us,” he says. “When it was the situation presented itself, it was necessary with their local ties to Christen the amphitheater. With the uncertainty that we were dealing with, it wasn’t fair to route a bunch of artists through and upset their schedule. We’re comfortable with what we have right now and we’re planning now — and have been for some time — for the 2018 season. The calendar is looking pretty great right now.”
As the area learned with Irvine Meadows’ departure, it’s hard to say goodbye to something that’s been as entrenched in a community like that big old building was. Tentative plans for a permanent facility remain, as of now, to be in the Cultural Terrace, but that still needs to be determined by the two companies and the city. In three years, FivePoint Amphitheatre has the potential to tide over music fans in Orange County until a permanent solution is reached.
“We’re very excited to have this partial season in 2017,” Haddad says. “Hopefully this will go down in the legend as another one where we promised the community to make sure we did whatever we could to make sure we didn’t lose live music here.”
“It’s a testament to the city council members and to the companies for not wanting abandon live music,” Gallagher continues. “Let’s keep the momentum going, let’s keep the opportunities for people to enjoy the music and the artists to play in a beautiful setting where it should be.”
Young the Giant perform with Cold War Kids and Sir Sly at FivePoint Amphitheatre Thursday, Oct 5. For full details and other shows happening at the venue, click here.