Refurbished Civic Auditorium Requires New Management

I have been to the San Jose Civic Auditorium once in my eight years of living in the city: a performance by towering jazz giants Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter about five years ago. A big jazz fan all my life, I have been lucky enough to see many of the greats, from Miles Davis to Weather Report, but the best jazz concert I have ever been to was definitely the one in the San Jose Civic that night. In fact, it was the most sublime musical experience of any type I have had, and that’s a hard list to top.

The big disappointment was the fact that there were barely 300 people in the audience, and I found that hard to understand. However, there had been little advance publicity or advertising, proving that even with the greatest musicians in the world, poor management and promotion will result in inadequate attendance and financial failure. If the same concert had been in the Santa Cruz Civic, it would have been packed to the gills and a lot of the audience would have driven over from San Jose.

This old 1936 building that once hosted the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane and a hundred other great musical acts is owned by the city and is a great community asset. It’s worn out, but, fortunately, it is about to get a $10 million renovation. At 3,200 seats, the Civic fits in nicely with the smaller 1,100-seat California Theatre and the 2,700-seat Center for Performing Arts. Like the Warfield or Fillmore in San Francisco, it’s perfect for high-quality, medium-sized performances of all types of music, comedy and other events. I can see Dylan, Los Lobos, Eno and Fripp, Herbie Hancock and George Carlin all appearing there.

The Civic is too big an investment of taxpayer dollars and has too much potential to leave to any but the most experienced professional management. There will be a razor’s edge between success and failure. The management will have to have specialist knowledge across all music genres and entertainment categories and know how to find and fit appropriate acts to the venue. They will have to strictly manage finances and work with the other downtown facilities and the convention center in order to avoid conflicts and maximize the potential of the city’s arts and entertainment calendar.

Currently, the now rarely-used auditorium is managed by Team San Jose, the group that manages the downtown convention and arts facilities. Even though Team San Jose has not performed as well as it should, the city council has just approved an extension of that management contract, against the advice of many at City Hall. Given that management of the San Jose Civic will require diligence and specialist knowledge to bring success, the council should carefully reconsider this matter. The interests of the taxpayers and the arts and entertainment policy of the city would be best served by selecting separate management with a proven track record in this type of venue and that reports directly to City Hall.

26 Comments

  1. #1

    Why don’t you read what I write instead of making ridiculous, false assertions:

    “The interests of the taxpayers and the arts and entertainment policy of the city would be best served by selecting separate management with a proven track record in this type of venue and that reports directly to City Hall.”

    “Separate” means not tied to any other organization, venue or umbrella group. Management for the Civic ONLY, reporting and responsible directly to the city council.

    The San Jose Sharks could not possibly fit that description.

    Is that clear enough for you?

  2. No, Jack, that isn’t.  The Sharks aren’t separate from the City?  Just because McEnery and Munro have Reed on puppet strings doesn’t make them part of the City. 

    What a joke.

  3. The whole Team San Jose problem is just another indication of the small-town, insiders culture that fattens some wallets but leaves San Jose as an also-ran. We need to look to a national company such as Clear channel or House of Blues to run the Civic. I too consider it a great asset but under the 3rd rate insiders club that seems to end up running everything in this town, it will not reach its potential.

  4. Your idea for new management sounds good, but in all honesty I do not know all the facts, functions and roles of the following downtown facilities:

    Convention Center
    California Theatre
    Center for the Performing Arts
    Civic Auditorium
    South Hall
    Parkside Hall
    Montgomery Theatre
    HP Pavilion
    Repertory Theatre
    Le Petit Trianon
    Jose Theatre

  5. Le Petit Trianon is privately owned but others are city property leased to various political insiders at under market rates with millions in yearly tax subsidies making insiders millions per year

  6. So what if the sharks want to run the civic? They seem to do a pretty good job getting good acts at the arena and perhaps could do a better job marketing events. Just because you hate Chuck Reed or Tom McEnery shouldn’t turn you off to someone potentially qualified to do a job? Please… Competition always yields better results and Team San Jose needs some of that to motivate them to do better.

  7. National company such as Clear channel, House of Blues or Bill Graham needed to run the Civic.

    Mountain View redid Shoreline contract and now gets from Live Nation fixed annual rent of $1.8 million at the amphitheater for up to 40 shows each year, $60,000 for each event beyond 40 events,
    City retains naming rights and 300 tickets reserved for Mountain View residents

  8. Jack,
      Right On ! We should have remodeled the Civic Auditorium and the Montgomery Theatre a long time ago. What a great place to promote the smaller events and concerts that are to small for the HP Pavilion. Right now all we have for the midsize concerts and events is Shoreline in Mt. View. The Civic can provide entertainment all year round, Shoreline can`t.

      The smaller concerts will be more affordable and thus have a greater frequency of fans. Bill Graham presents used to cover both midsize and larger concerts well. Remember Keystone San Francisco, Keystone Corners in Palo Alto, The Catalist in Santa Cruz and the OZ in downtown Monterey, always packed. These event centers promoted entertainers on the way up before they got to big and too expensive, Hewey Lewis was built by the Grahm network until he became big. The Civic could handle entertainers on the way up or those on the way down,The mid range group.

      The Civic can still be used for conventions and be extreemly profitable for the operator of the venue.

      This should become very profitable revenue generator for the city while increasing traffic downtown helping restaurants befoe and after events. Just think of the increased sales tax revenue from the increased downtown businesses sales. A win win for the city.A win win for downtown merchants.

      Great point Jack.

  9. Jack,
      We have a local talent, “Greg Kihn” who`s radio show is on KFOX and did a lot of work with Bill Grahm Presents. I rember Greg from the 70`s and 80`s as a leader of popular rock groups.
        Greg can tell you what a great opportunity the Civic could become for entertainment.

  10. Jack,
    Thanks for shining the light on the Civic Auditorium. As a jazz fan like yourself, this venue begs to be used for these types of smaller musical events – compared to the larger HP Pavilion.

    Has anyone in town had discusssions with SJ Jazz or Richard Scheinin ( the brilliant) jazz and classical columnist at The Merc?  These are groups / experts who could be tapped for their knowledge in this genre.

    Thanks for listening.
    John

  11. #4 Willow Glen Dad

    I have thought about what you suggest and can’t agree. Clear Channel or any other big national corporate media/entertainment group would be exactly the wrong way to go. They would turn the Civic into an entertainment McDonalds and run it on the basis of what is most profitable for them, which will mean pushing their own agenda.  House of Blues is great but perhaps too limited. We need far more.

    The Civic needs more dynamic programming of a much higher quality than these companies can offer. To serve the widest range of genres, tastes and artists, management will have to be more in tune with San Jose’s needs than any national company can possibly be. Let’s make the Civic a unique experience with exciting programming. Those who want the plain vanilla that Clear Channel offers have lots of options already.

  12. #16 Richard

    You are so right. We need a Bill Graham for the Civic. Unfortunately, the subsidiary of the media megacompany that now bears his name is not a suitable substitute for the man himself. I am sure that the right person is out there somewhere.

  13. Neither separate management nor city-run is great. 

    In Mountain View, we have a small city-run theatre.  It’s been running deficits for a decade. 

    We also have a large ampitheatre that has been run by a separate management company with years of experience.  We had to sue them because they were underpaying the lease and hiring phony auditors.

    The companies were Bill Graham Presents and Clear Channel.  You’re welcome to hire them if you want, but be sure you have really good lawyers.

  14. Bill Graham is dead, y’all.  What he brought to the dance was Nazi precision.  He worked for the paying attendees, and had little patience for prim donna rockers who showed up when they wanted to, started shows an hour late, or maybe just cancelled due to OD’s.

    His surviving company is as ineffcient as most other producers.

    When Bill was in charge, shows started ON TIME or you were docked, or never were asked back.  He didn’t put up with prima donna musician shitheads who did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.

    Nowadays—actually for a few decades, except for Bill Graham produced events—over drugged/over liquored performers start the show whenever the hell they feel like it, and the ticket prices are higher.  And most people put up with it.  I just stopped going.

    Bill Graham Productions ain’t Bill Graham.

  15. #19, what`s your point. Free rent for whomever takes this over to offset all their losses. Do you have somone in mind?

        There are quality opperators out there. I agree with Johnmichael, Bill`s dead.

        My God, why on earth would the people at the HP Pavilion want anything to do with the Civic if all hope is gone.

        Bill was a good operator. There were groups like Hewey Lewis and John sebastian that didn`t indulge. But then there were the the boys from Jamica, the Rata… that only drank water, the same was true for their fans, they arrived stoned!

        Reality, all is not lost. Ask Greg Kihn.

  16. Bill Graham or Northern California company can give local high quality content AND give San Jose a fair share of profits – $3-5 million year for 60-100 events a year like Shoreline deal

  17. Jack,
     
      Bill Grahm did it all. We need to find the new Bill Grahm. Going back to the 80`s he did the Beach Boys,Lovin Spoonful and later one man concerts with John Sebastian of the Spoonfulls. He did the Blues, Charlie Musselwhite, the white Blues man; The Blues Brothers; John Coltrane, John lee Hooker. Elvin Bishop country rock. Joan Baez, Steve Boone; Howlin Wolf. He crossed over to all types of entertainment. He came back with the same entertainers on late Saturday mornings for Kids.

  18. 20 – Can you be more insensitive and offensive? You make good and accurate points about the quality of shows produced by Bill Graham when he was alive and are correct that nobody has done as good a job since he died. But to refer to “Nazi precision” when referring to someone who escaped Nazi Germany, as Graham did, is extremely insensitive and a most unfortunate choice of words.
    I assume you were trying to make a point and meant no disrespect to Graham or other Holocaust survivors, but you sure showed poor judgment in using the Nazi reference.

  19. The re-model of the Civic is going to provide a golden opportunity for someone. This venue sits right in the middle of San Jose with a S.J . population of almost 1 million people with light rail and bus service, hotel`s and restaurants near by. All this said the best the city could do is protect itself with an excellent rent and income structure. Look at the other successful venues and their income programs.
      The City should stop all these sweetheart leases on property it owns. It`s time the city started generating income from these properties and if that means change, “so be it”. The city is broke for many reasons. With over 100 properties owned by the city and a projected income of only $1-1/2 to $2-1/2 Million dollars a year from these properties is not good at all. Enough with the sweetheart deals.
        These investments should go out to bid. We`re broke because of a lack of revenue and to many political decisions. Re-evaluate your properties, get the income up. $2 million a year average for 100 properties is a joke.

  20. I don’t have anyone in mind.  Nor do I have a proposed solution.

    I just wanted to point out that Clear Channel has a bad history in civic deals.  Concord got screwed, and Mountain View got a decent deal only after a long legal fight and tons of dollars in legal fees.

    It might the best available option, but it is certainly flawed.

  21. I agree with post # 4, I warned you about Team San Jose and the shady deals they make with city managment.  After following the mess that is Called Team San Jose in the Newspaper, it appears that even thought they were looked at pretty hard by the Santa Clara County Grand Jury.  They FAILED and were not following thier contract or doing anything in the contract that they had with the City of San Jose.  Now I see they were awarded the contract hands down by the City of San Jose for another 5 years?  What is going on here? Why is my money being wasted?  “Mayor Greed” seems to have forgotten about fiscal responsability and plays favorites. 
    I was at the last study session in the Council Chambers on the 17th of this month,  boy was I not impressed with the Dan Fenton Flea Circus.  Is see that Team San Jose had some of thier employees speak for them.  Wow they have a few lunatics on thier crew, what was with that tall guy wearing the flat top and the leather jacket, I think his name was Peterson or something?  I think he may have been on drugs or something by way he rambled.  Wow is all I can say and good luck to the City Employees that work with Team San Jose.  You need all the luck you can get now!
    Merry Christmas!

  22. You guys are right, the Civic Aud is a gem and San Jose is losing out.  The Mountain Winery and Montalvo seem to draw good crowds with a diverse and popular line up.  And they are not served with good parking, light rail, easy access and nearby restaurants.  Even the De Anza Theater books some great events. 

    Seems like good talent or mid-size events come to the Civic only as a last resort.  Surely it’s good for more than mud wrestling events and snakeoil sales conventions.

    Why?