Eminem, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Beyonce bring big money, neighborhood headaches to Rose Bowl

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The Rose Bowl may be best known for hosting landmark sporting events like the 1994 World Cup and the Super Bowl, but it is increasingly turning to the live concert industry to help pay down millions of dollars in stadium renovation debt.

Rapper Eminem and pop star Rihanna share the stage for two of the four mega-concerts this week at what Pasadena calls, "America's Stadium." Jay-Z and Beyonce's "On The Run" concert closed a two-night run on Sunday.

This year, the stadium will host a record seven concerts, each drawing some 60,000 fans. Neighbors who live within a few miles of the Rose Bowl's historic Arroyo Seco ravine are watching carefully as the stadium plans even more concerts for the future.

Darryl Dunn is general manager of the Rose Bowl Operating Company, the public enterprise that owns and runs the stadium.  He's also a music fan. At Saturday's concert, he was among the crowd as they saw an image of Beyonce in a flowing white dress projected onto a giant screen.

"The spotlight was on her, and she's singing this soft, beautiful song, and in the rain, in the spotlight, it was just... oh, it was unbelievable," Dunn said.

Each concert brings in several hundred thousand dollars in license fees, ticket taxes, parking and concession money. These past two years have been among the highest grossing in Rose Bowl history, surpassed only by the 1994 World Cup season.

The planned $152 million dollar renovation is expected to come in at $30 million over budget with unforeseen utility and infrastructure costs. Some of the overrun will be covered with private funds, the rest is financed with bond funding to be repaid through concert proceeds.

In short,  the stadium needs strong income to repay debt.

So, the hills of the Arroyo Seco ravine around the Rose Bowl are alive with the sound of music - sometimes loud, thumping pop music that bounces off the landscape and thousands of nearby homes, including Geoffrey Baum's about a mile away.

Baum is president of the West Pasadena Residents Association, which joined other homeowner groups in supporting the renovation by Pasadena, a city of about 140,000 residents.

"There is a need to generate the revenue to pay that. We're probably one of the smallest municipalities owning one of the most marquee venues in the nation for sports," he said.

Corner of Rose Bowl Drive and Arroyo Blvd

Now they are warily watching how the Rose Bowl manages the additional crowds, noise and traffic.  Residents can get trapped behind barricades during the heaviest influx. Weekday concerts are particularly rough, as commuters try to get home on congested freeways just as fans are arriving.

"There are still some issues we have on impacts on the neighborhood but we're also open to understanding the economic reality of what it takes to keep and maintain the Rose Bowl," Baum said.

But he credits the city with listening. For example, the city passed out a flyer with a hotline number to call in traffic and other complaints during events.

"People realize the long term viability of the Rose Bowl will be handicapped if they don't solve the mobility issue," he said.

Next month, Baum plans to take daughter Amy, 10, to her first big concert at the Rose Bowl. The boy band One Direction will play an unprecedented three-day engagement September 11, 12 and 13.

Dunn, the Rose Bowl GM, says most residents have learned how to cope with the concert traffic.

"During those times, particularly before the event, it's tough and after the event it's tough. People in the area are very educated, they've figured out how to work with it," he said.

The city's land use law limits these big events to just 12 per year. But this year, in ad hoc votes, the city increased the limit to 18. The big events are defined as attracting 20,000 or more attendees and displacing the usual recreation in the area around the Rose Bowl that functions like a gigantic central park for Pasadena.

Sometimes the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center is closed or limited during events. Runners, walkers and cyclists lose access to the 3-mile road that circles the Rose Bowl and adjacent Brookside Golf Course. During special events, parking at the golf course runs $40. The steep price is intended to reduce congestion by getting drivers to park in Old Town Pasadena for about $15, and take a $10 shuttle to the stadium.

Runners, walkers and cyclists don't have access to the Rose Bowl perimeter road during concerts and other big events

Pasadena resident Mark Martinez was golfing midweek at the city-owned Brookside Golf Club adjacent to the Rose Bowl. He says these concerts employ many local residents like him, and he'd be glad to see more.

"I got to work the event. We do all the mess we clean up everybody's crap," Martinez said.  "It helps feed the family, help with the grandkids and all that good stuff."

Amid the record concert calendar, residents are bracing for more  as the city and Rose Bowl plan an annual three-day music festival to begin next year. It would mean more money, and a third anchor tenant for the stadium, alongside UCLA Football and the Tournament of Roses organization. It would also bump up the annual number of big events as high as 21.

Some residents fear they might get a rowdy outdoor concert like Coachella or Stagecoach, or even an electronic dance music event like Electric Daisy Carnival.

Dunn, the Rose Bowl manager suggests the playlist might be more like the multi-generational festivals in New Orleans and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park - featuring acts like Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and some younger artists.

Resident Geoffrey Baum said, "There's a great deal of anxiety and skepticism about the concept of a three day music festival being the right fit for Pasadena."

Nina Chomsky, head of the Linda Vista Annandale Association is concerned too much is being sacrificed.

"The balance is being lost here," she said. "An occasional Beyonce concert, an occasional Rihanna Concert, okay, put it on Saturday night - that's not what's going on now."

She's been challenging the city's Rose Bowl plans for years, including a legal challenge by a coalition of resident groups of the city's plan to accommodate an NFL team on an interim basis at the Rose Bowl.  The residents were on the losing side in that case but have appealed. The concerts pose many of the same problems, she said.

"Now what we have is a program of intense commercialization, intense use," Chomsky said.

The city has been asking the public to comment on its plans for a permanent annual three-day music festival. The comment period remains open until August 16 - long enough for residents to experience this week's four concerts, and provide their feedback.

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