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Live Nation’s Chicago Takeover Hits a Snag

Live Nation’s attempt to control several live entertainment venues in a proposed $5 billion mixed-used development on Chicago’s North Side has drawn protests from local club owners and their allies, who reasonably argue the conglomerate’s expansion would threaten the city’s independent music scene. Organized efforts against the proposal have now killed at least part of Live Nation’s plans.

Brian Hopkins, the alderman in whose ward the developer Sterling Bay hopes to build, issued a statement last Tuesday nixing the project’s “entertainment district” as originally pitched. That pitch included a soccer stadium and three-to-five venues co-owned and operated by Live Nation, which currently books the city’s House of Blues and Huntington Bank Pavilion. Under a revised plan yet to be revealed to the public, the stadium is out, clubs would be “scattered” throughout the site, and “Live Nation will have no ownership interest in any of these venues,” Hopkins said.

Still, it’s more of a technical victory. Live Nation would still be allowed to run or lease venues in the development, and local venue owners remain skeptical that the so-called Lincoln Yards project won’t still hand over its clubs to corporate promoters. The Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL), formed specifically to protest Lincoln Yards, issued a press release in response to Hopkins’ announcement that affirms its opposition to the project’s approval, and to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer financing for associated infrastructure investment, before the local election on February 26.

“We are happy to see that the city and developer are responding to our concerns, but we see no change on the central issues we have raised,” said coalition co-chair Robert Gomez, who owns Subterranean and Beat Kitchen. “We see no indication that Live Nation or some other corporate conglomerate won’t be running or leasing music venues in Lincoln Yards.”

Developer Sterling Bay has attempted to assuage these concerns by suggesting it’s open to leasing the proposed clubs to locals. “Any operator has the opportunity to participate,” a spokesperson told Chicago Reader. However, the company isn’t engaging its most outspoken critics, who might be interested. A representative for CIVL told Spin that Sterling Bay has not directly communicated with any of the eight club owners who comprise the coalition’s board.

It’s worth noting how specific Alderman Hopkins’ statement is: While he says he opposes a Live Nation ownership stake, he does not take a stance on the possibility of the company, or a different entertainment conglomerate like AEG, operating the proposed venues otherwise. Hopkins has not responded to multiple requests for comment on whether a commitment to independent local management of the proposed clubs is a requirement for the project to receive his approval.

Still, the proposal barrels forward. On Friday, a municipal panel recommended, with Hopkins’ support, that the city spend $900 million on infrastructure that would help make Sterling Bay’s project site more cozy and accessible. The Chicago Plan Commission is scheduled to vote January 24 on whether to approve Lincoln Yards, thus sending the proposal to the city council. One month later, dozens of incumbent aldermen will face challengers in an election that will also unseat scandal-plagued Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who decided not to seek a third term. Rahm’s brother Ari, you’ll remember, sits on Live Nation’s board of directors.

Asked whether Live Nation still plans to pursue an operating role in any potential Lincoln Yards clubs, a company representative declined to comment.