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Major downtown music festivals to be considered by St. Louis aldermen

LA-based ICM looking to bring top talent on Memorial and Labor Day weekends.

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ST. LOUIS • City aldermen will consider a long-term contract Thursday that would bring large scale music festivals to downtown St. Louis over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

The 64-page board bill, which is moving fast through the city’s Board of Aldermen, would give Summer Rocks LLC exclusive access for 20 years to parts of the Gateway Mall over Memorial and Labor Day weekends to produce “world-class outdoor high-quality music festivals.”

Summer Rocks is owned by powerhouse Los Angeles talent agency ICM Partners, which represents some of the top names in music. Some of ICM's talent has appeared at music festivals Bonnaroo, Coachella, South by Southwest, Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair.

Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay, said the company approached the city in December. He said plans for St. Louis would be on the same scale of the firm’s other large events.

St. Louis developer Stephen Stogel, the group’s local contact, said the arrangement would focus on country music over Memorial Day and rock music over Labor Day. Stogel said he couldn’t provide an exact list of performers until official agreements are reached, enabling the company to book talent.

The events could be a boost to downtown. For example, the Bonnaroo festival, affiliated with the same company, has been a huge economic boost to the rural area of Coffee County, Tenn.

The events would begin in 2015, if the bill moves forward. The contract would lock in the city and hand over exclusive rights to the area around Soldiers Memorial on the two holidays for the next 20 years. Under the terms, Summer Rocks can terminate the contract at any time; the city can end the agreement if the company fails to produce at least one festival in a two-year period.

The contract calls for Summer Rocks to pay the city $400,000 for city services provided to each festival. The company also would hand over fees from tickets sold the first 10 years. The city says it could receive as much as $1.5 million per festival from those fees.

The city is represented by law firm Thompson Coburn, including attorney Barbara Geisman, the city’s former director of economic development.

The bill was recently introduced by Ward 7 Alderman Phyllis Young and is supported by Aldermanic President Lewis Reed. The Convention, Tourism, Arts & Humanities committee will discuss it at 11 a.m. Thursday. If passed, the bill would go before the entire board.

The events would “be televised nationally,” Reed said. “It would be a great addition to our arts and culture offerings.”

Young, the bill’s sponsor, said she first learned about the Summer Rocks proposal last week.

Some have questioned whether the bill’s language, particularly a noncompete clause, would grant the company too much control and push out other long-standing events in the city. The clause would prevent the city from allowing competing for-profit music events “substantially similar to a festival” in the city on those dates.

“The main thing is the noncompete clause needs to be substantially changed or removed,” tweeted Alderman Scott Ogilvie.

LouFest, set for Sept. 6-7 in Forest Park, is typically held around Labor Day.

But Rainford said the new festivals wouldn’t push out any existing events. He said the noncompete clause would affect only “somebody who wants to start a Lollapalooza,” a reference to the popular alternative rock festival.

The meeting comes as Entertainment St. Louis, an events planning company, has moved two of its popular downtown festivals, Taste of St. Louis and Bluesweek, to Chesterfield. Bluesweek was held annually on Memorial Day weekend in the same spot where Summer Rocks would hold its event.

Rainford said the relocation of the for-profit events has nothing to do with the Summer Rocks bill.

Mike Kociela, the founder of Entertainment St. Louis, said he had no comment Tuesday and referred a reporter to a spokesman, who couldn’t be reached.

Joe Holleman of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Nicholas J.C. Pistor is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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