What a Levitt Pavilion Would Bring to San Jose

There has been considerable speculation about the possibility of putting a Levitt Pavilion in St. James Park. I am going to provide some basic information and dispel some myths about the project, which should then inform any and all discussions.

The Levitt Foundation is a nation-wide funder of Levitt Pavilions, which are community-based venues for family friendly music. They now exist in seven U.S. cities. In order to be chosen by the Levitt Foundation, each of these pavilions share basic characteristics and requirements.

The first condition is that a Levitt Pavilion must help transform a park or other space, which is why St. James Park is ideal. The need is clear. Levitt is not interested in building a pavilion in a space that already works. It should be noted that the Levitt Foundation sought out San Jose, talking and meeting with city staff over several months to assess need and requirements.

Second, the space must be a certain size, able to hold an audience (lawn seating) of at least a few thousand people. Ideally, the location should also be accessible by public transportation.

What makes a Levitt Pavilion such a good investment is that the foundation provides funding to help build it, committing $400,000 to an effort that will likely cost about $2.5 million total. The funding does not go to a city or governmental body, but to a community-based nonprofit organization that must be formed to build and oversee operations.

This “Friends of Levitt Pavilion” group must raise funds from the start, so that the venue is truly part of the community. This group must also have the capacity to raise approximately $750,000 annually. Being part of the Levitt “family” includes an annual support grant of $200,000 for the first four years and $150,000 a year after that.

Again, this private, nonprofit organization must be based in San Jose and serve the people of San Jose. There must be at least 50 Free Concerts annually and they are all designed to attract family audiences. The city becomes a partner, in that it will own the pavilion and is responsible for overall maintenance, but a Levitt Pavilion has its own professional staff that includes operations, production management, fundraising and marketing.

The Levitt Foundation’s national staff provides additional financial support for special projects, training and more. Cities that have the pavilions form a family to help each other, including sharing performers, marketing insight and fundraising techniques.

Having seen families gather to enjoy concerts in Los Angeles and Pasadena, I believe a Levitt Pavilion in San Jose will not only work amicably with the immediate neighborhood, but also serve the entire community through a variety of music programming. Owned and operated by San Jose residents, it will stay on course to serve everyone for a long time to come.

It will have a very positive impact on St. James Park, fitting in nicely as one of the key pieces that make San Jose a wonderful place.

James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.

12 Comments

  1. Thanks James, keep up the good work and let’s try to bring this venue to its former glory.

  2. Will this “non-profit” you speak of be funded by taxpayer dollars? Last year the City of San Jose “donated” $60,000.00 taxpayer dollars to the San Jose Parks Foundation of which you received $81,000.00 in salary. So yes, the money matters and the source of it matters more. I ask you again… Will tax payer dollars be involved in any way for this Pavilion either directly or through “donations” to a “non-profit” organization?

  3. At least on the surface, it looks like a Levitt Pavilion could make a positive difference in St. James Park.

    But for any proposal involving public participation, we obviously should demand complete transparency regarding where the money comes from, who manages it, and where it goes.

    — In what amounts, and to whom, have City funds already been paid in connection with the San Jose Levitt Pavilion proposal?

    — What is the maximum amount the City is willing to invest in a successful Levitt Pavilion?

    — What is the maximum amount the City is willing to lose in an unsuccessful Levitt Pavilion?

    — What percentage of Levitt Pavilion funds passing through the Parks Foundation will be taken for “administrative” costs?

    — What salaries and/or incentives will be provided for what management positions?

    — Who will select the managers and monitor their performance?

    — Is it expected that top managers will have a proven track record of success in comparable ventures?

    Mr. Reber’s credibility as a persistent pitchman for a San Jose Levitt Pavilion would be enhanced if he were to provide an explicit statement that the proposal involves no past, present or future personal economic benefit to him. In my opinion, without full disclosure of his personal financial interest in the proposal he deserves no credibility whatsoever.

    • Sir, would you like an environmental impact report to go with it? Paper or plastic?

      Just in case you haven’t noticed, the place has become a crackhead/gangbanger infested zone with no end in sight. I’d like to demand a complete transparency regarding the status quo that you’re obviously favoring and ask you one simple question:

      – In what amounts, will City funds have to be paid for the emergency services, police overtime, clean-up services, blight control & infrastructure maintenance and what will be the total loss of new business, property and sales tax revenue (for years to come) in connection with maintaing the existing St. James Crackhead Pavillion?

      • Sir (madam?), In case you didn’t notice, there is nothing in my post indicating that I favor maintaining the status quo in St. James Park. The opposite is true.

        My first point was that a Levitt Pavilion could make a positive difference in Saint James Park. But I think the City should be careful and open about the use of public funds. Do you disagree with that? I think we should put behind us the days of backroom deals (think Gonzales and Chavez.) Do you disagree with that? I think the City should take a careful look at business plans and prospects before sinking tens of millions into projects that can’t sustain themselves as so optimistically projected (think Zanotto’s and the Rep.) Do you disagree with that? Do you think 50 days of Levitt Pavilion per year will eliminate the existing problems during the remaining 315 days of the year? Do you think a Levitt Pavilion wouldn’t bring additional costs for emergency services, police overtime, clean-up services, blight control and infrastructure maintenance?

        Why don’t you post under your own name?

  4. On 10/8/13 SJI posted an article titled, “Liccardo, San Jose Rock Shop Support Concert Venue in St. James Park”. In it was the following, “According to Liccardo, the project will cost a total of $2.5 million to build, and $500,000 annually to maintain the stage and pay for acts.”

    Mr. Reber is this where you are getting the “likely cost of $2.5 million”???

    In response to that article I posted……

    Sam’s cost of $2.5 million seems low.  Can he be more specific? The Westport’s Levitt Pavillion is costing over $6 million.  Denver’s $4 million. Bethlehem’s $8 million.
    Levitt Executive Director Sharon Yazowski said pavilions usually costs $2 million to $2.5 million to renovate.  That is renovate.

    http://westport.patch.com/groups/summer/p/contract-awarded-construction-company-approved-for-ne244d85d0e3
    http://levittdenver.org/blog/2013/6/5/levitt-pavilion-concert-series-will-take-center-stage-at-the-new-ruby-hill-park
    http://levittdenver.org/blog/2013/6/5/levitt-pavilion-concert-series-will-take-center-stage-at-the-new-ruby-hill-park
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Deadheads-oppose-renaming-Garcia-venue-4481351.php

  5. To: San José Inside

    Mr. Reber fails to disclose to the reading public of his role on the “Friends of Levitt Pavilion” and other associated activities.

    Is Mr. Reber an “Agent” of Levitt Pavilion?

    Does Mr. Reber pay San José Inside a “Fee” to routinely post his columns referencing Levitt Pavilion at Saint James Park? If not, San José Inside should for Mr. Reber is using you.

    Mr. Reber obviously has a material conflict of interest in using San Jose Inside for his personal, pecuniary and political gain.

    Does San José Inside support legitimate journalism or is San José Inside a platform to be used by special interest groups touting their wares under the cover of legitimate journalism?

    David S. Wall

  6. I love the concept of Levitt Pavilions and the Levitt Foundation model and participation even more perhaps.
    But I’ve worried about many other things. I’m not hitting all of these. But a “working group” to look into these and twenty other issues can help move this ball forward.

    1) Will it really cost $2.5M?
    – Let’s break down this and determine what is entailed.
    – Can someone outside the city can get a high quality product delivered for less,
    but with high quality that is not compromised.

    – How can we keep this pavilion from being vandalized, graffiti free?

    1A) Would it be better to have 3 small pavilions instead of one large one??

    – If it’s community focused, how about in larger neighborhood parks?

    – Modify the Levitt requirements and work with a for profit partner, such as Eastridge Mall?

    – Or if one large one is successful in St James Park, add 2-3 later??

    2) Can SJ residents, businesses, etc pony up the $2.1M up front and $750k/year ongoing?!?
    – Seems like a large ask, even with the large amount of wealth in the city/valley
    – Who can help apply for grants to make this happen?
    – Community Building, Gang Prevention, Health & other angles perhaps?

    3) What about security? Trash? Noise complaints/mitigation?
    – Can we perform these differently? Less costly?

    Note: I do realize behind the shell it’s relatively quiet… so placement/angle may be critical.

    4) Free concerts were given up by the Music in the Park folks – will the family focus make this completely different?

    5) Can we really perform 50 (free or otherwise) concerts there?
    2/weekend over summer does get us halfway there…

    6) What are the police costs (etc) to invite the homeless to move aside?
    – Or the costs before/during/after each of the 50 concerts

    7) Will any forcible evictions cause an ACLU lawsuit, etc?
    – Granted, this is long, long overdue
    – other non-profits to help with homeless issues that we can get if we show the capacity to raise $750k ongoing
    plus $2.1M up front?

    8) Will the development around the St James Park inhibit the development and ongoing life of the event?

    9) What happens if things don’t work out?
    – Is there an escape clause?
    – Can the infrastructure be repurposed?

    10) Is there another site that should be considered in SJ?
    – I do think the backside of Mexican Heritage Plaza if the parking were removed,
    but taking out the parking and the close proximity of the neighbors makes that problematic.

    Thank you for writing this article and bringing this to the attention to those that live, work and love San Jose and want our beloved City to be even better, family friendly and a city with many Destination Spots to be proud of!

  7. First off, getting James Reber for $81,000 a year is a bargain in so many ways, from the support for parks to the work he does for neighborhood associations and other volunteer organizations related to parks throughout the city.
    I walked St. James Park yesterday and had similar questions to a lot of the foregoing. Is a Levitt Pavilion the best use. Certainly, to entertain the greatest number an LP may be the way to go.
    As for the homeless, I think the biggest issues are the ratio of homeless to non-homeless and the degree of illegal behavior that is tolerated. As downtown fills up with new residents, this ratio will start to change the ratio. Then it’s up to promoters and police to change the behavioral standards. In the latter days of the old Music In The Park program, things got downright scary as more and more drugs, unsupervised kids and gangbangers invaded the scene, partly drawn by the music being programmed.
    Last but not least, I would be sad to see a fence around this park.

  8. There used to be a free music concert series at St James Park a few years ago called “Music in the Other Park”. This series was cancelled because too many of the “wrong people” showed up. Now someone wants to include even more free music events to drive out the “wrong people” who visit the park?

    For $2 million up front and $750,000 yearly there has got to be a lot of much more effective things you could do with St James Park.