Every year, the San Diego Opera puts on a series of free outdoor concerts in front of the Civic Theatre downtown.
With the impending opening of Horton Plaza Park – the revamped plaza in front of Westfield Horton Plaza mall – the opera’s director of education and community engagement, Nicolas Reveles, looked into moving the free concert program over to the new park. He’d read the city had plans to hold more than 200 events there every year.
“There are a lot more people walking in and out of the shopping center than Civic Theatre,” Reveles said. “So we thought it would be a good move for us.”
But when Reveles got a quote back from Westfield, the company that owns the mall and will operate the park for the next 25 years under a public-private partnership agreement with the city, he was taken aback. It would cost more than $5,000 to rent the space out – and that was the discounted rate.
“We were shocked,” Reveles said. “That’s just impossible for us – there’s no way.”
Reveles said the rate is higher than rental quotes he’s received from places like the Civic Theatre and Balboa Theatre. Part of the problem, he said, was that Westfield wasn’t willing to rent out the plaza for just a few hours; instead it insisted the opera pay the full-day rate even though the concert only takes about three hours, including set-up and teardown.
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Looks like Westfield has indeed restructured its approach to renting to local nonprofits:
"Westfield spokeswoman Kim Brewer said a website, hortonplazapark.com, was launched Monday to let local groups and businesses sign up to perform, meet or hold receptions and events in the park. Nonprofits will be able to hold events on Tuesdays at no charge and at other times at 50 percent of the going rate for renting equipment and other setup expenses."
These public/private partnerships always seem to result in a loss for the public. Look at what happened when the decision was made to revamp Broadway Pier and "open it up to the public." Now, every event that takes place there is either private (meaning the public is not permitted at all) or there is an entry charge (See the Sand Castle Competition that used to be free to the public when it was held in Imperial Beach). The real culprit here is the City. This town of "Tons of money for football stadiums, but none for public spaces or infrastructure," seems to believe in shoveling the money in the direction of friends and developers, and charging the public for what had previously been free space. Why don't they just throw up some fences like they do during events like Mardi Gras or what used to be Street Scene and just charge people to enter the downtown? It''s these cheapskate attitudes that keep San Diego at the B level when compared to other cities. Great cities are not great because of the money they make off their citizens. They are great because of what they provide to everyone, open and free.
If Westfield already decided they needed a plaza-like “welcome mat” for their crummy mall, and were willing to create it at their own expense, then why did the city offer a deal in which Westfield not only got a plaza for free, courtesy of the people of San Diego, but also the right to charge the people for the use of our own public space?
Looks like San Diego’s Chamber of Commerce Republicans did it again: gave away public assets to a private business for private gain.
Incidentally, in what world can San Diego not afford to maintain a one acre park, but can afford $350 million for a football stadium?
The article says: "any profits from events that top a certain threshold are to be split between the city and Westfield". There shouldn't be any profits! Westfield should charge nothing more than a reasonable maintenance fee, since, as it admits, attracting crowds would increase the amount of shoppers to the adjacent mall. As a downtown resident, I have been enthusiastically anticipating the opeing of the new plaza space. Let's hope the City and Westfield can work something out, and prevent the space from turning into a "HUGE" albatross.
Stunner. The city makes a deal that doesn't take into account key stakeholders, like the organizations it could serve... all to avoid 'nuisances' like the homeless long ignored. So, we should expect less professional community arts events and what, more high ticket brand concerts and chic expensive weddings? Check.