Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

Council lashes county officials over Live Nation

Leggett accused of back-room dealings

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Several Montgomery County Council members grilled top officials for County Executive Isiah Leggett Tuesday over the administration’s lease with national concert promoter Live Nation for a music venue in Silver Spring.

Council members accused the administration of negotiating a back-room deal without the benefit of seeking other offers from music promoters, including the owner of the 9:30 Club, Seth Hurwitz, who lives in Bethesda.

‘‘I feel boxed in and I don’t like feeling boxed in,” said Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park.

Elrich also accused the county of ‘‘hyping the economic benefits” from the proposed deal with Live Nation.

Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac and the county’s Chief Administrative Officer Timothy Firestine got into a heated exchange about why the county had not contacted Hurwitz and suggest he make a proposal for the project after the Birchmere deal fell through.

‘‘I do perceive the process used here taints the entire project and makes it difficult for us,” Berliner said.

The county should have contacted Hurwitz, the 9:30 Club’s owner since he is a county resident and one of the most successful music venue operators in the country, Berliner said.

‘‘I didn’t feel it was necessary,” Firestine said. ‘‘Why didn’t you do that when it was brought to you two times before?”

‘‘I’m not negotiating for the county,” Berliner shot back. ‘‘If you have somebody in Montgomery County who has a track record, why didn’t you pick up the phone and say talk to us.”

Firestine didn’t reply.

‘‘I’m serious,” Berliner said. ‘‘There has to be a reason.”‘‘We wanted to move quickly,” Firestine said. ‘‘We didn’t hear from our local businessman during that period of time.”

Council members appeared divided. Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said he thought the county had done a good job in negotiating a deal that has the potential for a higher rate of return than other economic development investments. The county and state would put in $8 million and the county would receive the vacant J.C. Penney department store, valued at $3.5 million, for free from the developer as part of the project.

Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said the deal is an important one to continue the revitalization efforts for Silver Spring.

Plus, she said, she likes the idea of a music venue there.

‘‘It’s ok to have fun,” she said. ‘‘Silver Spring continues to be a work in progress.”

But Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said he has not yet made up his mind to vote to approve the deal or not.

‘‘I’m firmly on the fence,” he said to laughter. ‘‘I’m firmly on the fence.”

While Leventhal said he would like a music hall to be there in Silver Spring, he did not think the community’s revitalization efforts hinge on it.

‘‘We’re way past the point where Silver Spring goes begging,” Leventhal said. ‘‘Silver Spring doesn’t have to go begging anymore.”

Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton said the county was facing tough economic times and had to consider the appropriateness of spending more public funds on yet another entertainment venue.

‘‘I do not support the county continuing to acquire arts facilities where I believe the private sector needs to carry the load,” she said.

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