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Clear Channel Backs Out Of Downtown Theater

DURHAM, NC (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Clear Channel Entertainment withdrew its name Monday as the preferred operator for a proposed downtown performing arts center, leaving the city in search of another company to take on the project under its terms, according to The Herald-Sun.

The Herald-Sun also reported that officials with the media conglomerate said they wouldn't undertake the project because the company is redefining its "strategic plan" and "can't commit to a project like this under the conditions the City of Durham proposes," according to a letter sent to Alan DeLisle, the city's director of economic development.

City officials said the next step is to find other operators. But Mayor Bill Bell said the city should only consider companies that don't expect the city to take on financial liability for operating the arts center.

"My sense is that unless we are able to find someone to basically assume the risk that we've been asking Clear Channel to assume in that deal, then it's highly unlikely that we will be able to make that project work," Bell said.

Although specific terms were never hammered out, the city's goal was to have the company assume the risk of operating losses while paying the city a portion of the annual profits. In addition, most of the construction costs would be paid for with an already-approved hotel-motel tax. Naming rights and corporate sponsorships would cover the balance.

The initial plan called for a 4,000-seat theater costing about $42 million and would have required taxpayer dollars to cover the costs. This month, the plan was scaled back to 2,800 seats at a cost of $30 million.

Clear Channel's involvement has received heavy criticism from the local arts community, which argued that the company monopolizes the music industry. Maria Francesca Braganza, a founding member of Arts and Business Council of Downtown, opposed having the company as an operator because she was worried it wouldn't recruit diverse acts and would avoid using local labor and vendors.

With Clear Channel out of the picture, Braganza hopes the city will slow down its efforts.

"I would really like the city to go back and re-evaluate the project from the ground up … [rather] than simply evaluating another operator for the theater," Braganza said.

Community activist Josh Parker said he also believes the city should take more time to determine what residents want. Parker represented ABCD earlier this month during a visit by city officials to the Verizon Wireless Theater in Houston. The city used that theater, as well as Cincinnati's Aronoff Center for the Arts, as models for Durham's proposed theater.

"What happened in this whole process is we never asked the right questions, we never really identified what our needs were," said Parker, a former Durham County Commissioners candidate. "We got the money and decided we needed to build something. The worse thing that could possibly come out of this is that the city decides to just quickly find another promoter to do this as planned."

In order to raise its hotel-motel tax to help fund the project, the city must break ground on the proposed theater by the fall of 2005. That deadline adds a sense of urgency to the vendor search, said City Councilman John Best Jr.

"There's a time clock on the legislation, and there's specific requirements on how we can use the funds coming from the occupancy tax," Best said. "The time's a tickin', so we probably need to move pretty fast on this to put out a request for proposals from other operators."

Other operators do appear to be interested in working with the city, including the House of Blues, Bell said. But whichever operator the city picks, Bell said the company must be willing to take on the financial risk.

"Unless we can find someone who can do this, I doubt that we'll be able to make it work," Bell said.