Denver isn't the only Front Range city Anschutz Entertainment Group and Superfly are considering to host a massive three-day music festival. Uncertain whether the community really wants the eighty-band, multimillion-dollar project, the industry giants may just cut ties.
While the corporations have courted Denver harder than other cities, already bandying about contract terms with Mayor Michael Hancock's administration, "This is not a done deal," said AEG/Superfly consultant David Ehrlich at a public meeting at Schmitt Elementary School on Wednesday, February 1. The festival, which its backers hope will rise to the level of the AEG-produced Coachella and Superfly's Outside Lands, would take over the Overland Park Golf Course for five weeks in September.
Ehrlich offered up a "No comment" when asked by Westword if the other cities being considered were Westminster or Broomfield. Wherever they are, they're on the Front Range, and they have less of a convoluted public process than Denver, Ehrlich told us.
One reason that no contracts have been signed — or, for that matter, even drafted — is that from the get-go, Hancock insisted that nothing would happen without community input, Denver City Councilman Jolon Clark told roughly fifty of his constituents who were split on the issue. Clark prides himself on his willingness to engage his community, even when nobody agrees.
"I don't think we will ever have a process that lets everyone get exactly what they want," he told the crowd. He likened representative democracy and neighborhood meetings to a marriage: Sometimes you disagree, but you still have to work it out.
Neighbors raised a variety of concerns at the meeting. Some worried that their community would never see any of the money that AEG, Superfly and the city would rake in from the festival. One man worried about how a mid-September music festival would impact bird-migration patterns. Michele Helwig-Nelson, a union organizer with the Denver Musicians Association, challenged AEG to use the festival as an opportunity to support local musicians — something the industry giant is frequently criticized for failing to do. Homeowners worried about whether they could access their homes, golfers worried that they would have to drive to Lakewood to play, and residents in adjacent neighborhoods worried about parking.
Jessica, a resident of Overland, evoked the failed Vertex Festival in Buena Vista, which was shut down after disgruntled community members lobbed a string of noise complaints and safety concerns at town officials.
"It is my understanding that AEG put on a music festival last summer in Buena Vista, and permits were not granted this year because of noise complaints and because citizens of the town just weren't having it," said Jessica, who chose not to give her last name.
Ehrlich responded, "The Vertex festival was up in Buena Vista, and I think there were various reasons why it didn't occur, but I'm certainly not going to dispute that it's not coming back, and I think that we feel very comfortable that this is a different kind of animal. With the combination of Superfly, with the urban environment, we believe it will be successful."
So did many in the audience. One man talked about the importance of music to younger people, and how the community would be giving the next generation a great gift by hosting the festival. Paul Bodor, who lives next to the golf course, says every public meeting just makes him more excited about the festival.
But compared to other Colorado cities, Denver has "more hoops to jump through," Ehrlich told Westword. And although AEG and Shutterfly have started jumping, he told us they are in conversations with multiple municipalities.
The question that he and Chuck Morris, CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountains, have to weigh is whether the sluggish process of neighborhood meetings, squabbles and politicking and navigating multiple city agencies' peculiarities is worth enduring to win a bid with Hancock's administration, or whether it would be more expedient for the companies to ditch Denver for greener, friendlier pastures in the suburbs.
"Do you think AEG and Superfly wanted this to be the process? No way," Clark told Westword after the meeting. If the corporations had their druthers, they would show up, say, "This is great for Denver," and then pull out a contract, added Clark.
While Ehrlich insisted that AEG and Superfly are community-minded, he noted their primary goal is to make money. "It's not a nonprofit. We want to run efficiently."
That worries Councilman Clark. "My fear is a little bit that people will be like, 'We love this,' and we won't get it. Because of how the process is designed, we run a real risk of that," he said at the meeting. "But, God, what a better process than, 'Hey, we just made an announcement that we're going to do this, and the city is going to impose its will.'"