Wednesday, March 25, 2009

City Park and the Voodoo Music Experience: Four Weddings and a Funeral?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2009 at 11:12 PM

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Tensions in the City Park/Voodoo Experience snafu (Dategate?) continue to simmer, and conversations today with principals on both sides indicate the issue is no closer to a resolution. The conflict arose when Voodoo producer Stephen Rehage chose to move the annual music festival from its scheduled Oct. 23-25 dates to Halloween weekend, a change he says was approved by park staff in January. The problem: City Park already has multiple weddings and a fundraiser scheduled for the last weekend in October. Those events have been slated since 2008, according to City Park CEO Bob Becker.

“Why would we go and tell him the date was OK when we had booked and scheduled events?” Becker asks rhetorically. “That’s our view of it. … This is just a very tough issue because of something we all tried to avoid by booking these dates long out in the future, so you wouldn’t book conflicting events.”

But Rehage maintains the financial commitments he’s made since January — which include booking dozens of bands, including headliner KISS, specifically for Halloween — were based on approval from City Park’s department of special events. (Department director Julie LaCour declined comment.)

“It’s two people that work very closely — our production manager and their special events person — had a miscommunication,” Rehage says. “I think Bob feels that they never did agree to it, and we feel the opposite. We’ve been negotiating that point for 11 days now.”

The two parties each proposed an alternate site — Rehage suggested the grassy area in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art, where Voodoo was held in 2006; Becker offered a spot north of I-610 — but both deemed the other’s option a nonstarter. “We told him he could have Pan American Stadium,” Becker says, “and that we would take whatever he paid us for the event and put it into that site, because we recognize that it’s an unimproved site. He’s rejected that.”

As for the 2006 site, Becker says it’s not feasible. “If you go out there right now, you will see we are transforming that area from a former golf course into a new passive recreation area. We’re doing new plantings all around the lake under a partnership we have with the Trust for Public Land. We just think that is not a compatible place for an event now. We’re spending a lot of money to transform that into a really nice area.

“We have [Rehage’s] place held for him,” he adds, “in the place he had it last year that worked well.”

Provided, of course, that Rehage revert back to his original dates — an impossibility according to the promoter. Rehage’s focus instead is on negotiating a move of the conflicting events: the weddings and the fundraiser. The latter, Friends of City Park’s annual Ghosts in the Oaks, was originally scheduled for the previous weekend and moved because of Voodoo. “They’re not set in stone,” Rehage says. “They would happily move back.”

Reached for comment, Debbie Perrone, Friends of City Park president, didn’t argue the point: “Whatever the park needs us to do, we’re there to work for the park.”

Therefore, it comes down to the weddings, Rehage says, “and we haven’t been allowed to discuss that. We’ve offered to [purchase their contracts]. The reality of the situation is there’s only two major weddings — the two in the botanical garden — that are directly affected by the sound from Voodoo. There’s three other weddings in the pavilion that are not affected by Voodoo.” He says a decision about the festival’s fate should come soon after a scheduled meeting with Becker on Monday morning, and adds there are “no plans at this point” to hold the event anywhere but City Park.

“We’re having our own conversations with all the families involved in [the weddings], and trying to find a resolution,” Becker says. “We’re trying to act in good faith with people who are planning a life event here. We want to be very sensitive to them.”

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