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Three of clubs

The Reader's on the case of all that empty space

Empty Little Italy venue Anthology has a new lease on life as the Music Box, aiming for an August premiere.
  • Empty Little Italy venue Anthology has a new lease on life as the Music Box, aiming for an August premiere.

“I wonder if the dead-venue ghost from the California Theatre has migrated next door.”

That is how one wag joked about the fact that a downtown block is haunted by the shells of buildings that used to house two major concert venues. For several years the empty California Theatre and its neighbor, 4th&B, have squatted on prime real estate, generating zero sales-tax dollars.

The 88-year-old, 2200-capacity California Theatre had a history of hosting headliners such as Motörhead, Cheap Trick, Journey, the Cramps, PiL, and Lou Reed. Veteran sound tech Louis Procacino recalls that 200 riot police once showed up for a Dead Kennedys California Theatre show. “And Patti Smith almost started a riot there.”

The theater hasn’t hosted a show since 1989. Insiders say a necessary structural retrofit is keeping it dark. Redevelopment agencies that used to pay for such renovations were dissolved three years ago.

In April of 2013, L.A.-based EDM impresarios John Lyons and David Dean reported that they had taken over the lease of 4th&B and were going to transform it into a state-of-the-art dance-music mecca like the Avalon in Hollywood. They planned to be open by the fall of 2013; however, construction has yet to start.

Speaking for Avalon, Dean has always maintained that everything is fine, that these things just take time, and that Avalon San Diego will open when the time is right. A former employee of 4th&B says the City of San Diego is losing $40,000 a month in sales tax, a figure based on previous 4th&B revenue.

Some wonder if the Avalon people may have backed away from Avalon San Diego because they were intimidated by the recent opening of the Omnia in the Gaslamp. The U-T stated Omnia owners, the Hakkasan Group of Las Vegas, spent $80 million to upgrade the former Stingaree building.

“Sure, the Avalon guys are a big deal in L.A., but everything is three times bigger in Las Vegas [regarding EDM],” says an insider. “I think Avalon got scared when Hakkasan came to town.”

Avalon’s Dean said he would not comment on competitors, but he tells the Reader that work will begin on 4th&B in July, as soon as they are finished with a venue in Palm Springs.

Meanwhile, the new venue in the space formerly known as Anthology on India Street is starting to come into focus.

As reported by the Reader, F&B Associates (parent company of Best Beverage Company) took over the Little Italy nightspot in April 2013. Best Beverage is the catering company that supplies food and booze to the Coachella, Stagecoach, Vans Warped Tour, and BottleRock music festivals as well as the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard.

Best Beverage won’t talk before its PR company’s formal announcement, but insiders say the new venture will be called the Music Box and will be bullish on live music.

The hoped-for launch date of the Music Box is this August. An extensive remodel is underway to better accommodate major-name headliners, and insiders say that Joe Rinaldi (the Merrow, Viper Room, House of Blues) will be talent buyer. Rinaldi could not be reached for comment.

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"Insiders say a necessary structural retrofit is keeping it dark. Redevelopment agencies that used to pay for such renovations were dissolved three years ago."

Why should a "redevelopment agency" be paying? The property owners should pay. If they can't, let them sell to someone else. And if it sits vacant, well, it's their property... if they just want to write a check for the taxes every year and generate no income, that's up to them.

"A former employee of 4th&B says the City of San Diego is losing $40,000 a month in sales tax, a figure based on previous 4th&B revenue."

That implies that the City is somehow "owed" that money, and the fact that it isn't rolling in is somehow "wrong". It also presupposes that every dollar that would have been spent at 4th & B isn't being spent somewhere else.

Language like that sounds suspiciously like the excuses used to justify an attempt to subsidize a new stadium for the Chargers with hundreds of millions of dollars of public money... "There's this great fountain of revenue waiting for us, this is an investment, we should use tax money to make this happen, and it's OK that a private owner rakes in all the profits because we'll see more tax revenue!" Wrong. All we accomplish is rearranging where the revenue comes from.

This is a non-issue.

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