The Sleep Train Pavilion of Concord (formerly known as the Chronicle Pavilion at Concord and before that, the Concord Pavilion) was built by the city of Concord and opened in 1975.

The impetus for the facility was the Concord Jazz Festival, which had outgrown its home in the Concord Boulevard Neighborhood Park. The Jazz Festival was conceived by local jazz enthusiast Carl Jefferson, and attracted artists such as Pearl Bailey, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and native son Dave Brubeck.

The Pavilion was designed by internationally recognized Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank O. Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The Pavilion was operated by the city of Concord, with Bill Graham Presents (BGP) serving as the booking agent.

Although the Pavilion was built to host the very popular Concord Jazz Festival, BGP booked many seasons with concerts by the most popular rock, pop and country bands from Tina Turner, Sting, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, B.B. King, Santana, Dolly Parton, and many, many others.

Each year, dozens of performances were booked at the facility; ticket buyers could buy a subscription to the acts in their favorite music genre.

In addition, the nonprofit Concord Pavilion Associates brought free or discounted cultural performances to the Pavilion, such as the Oakland Ballet, California Symphony's Fourth of July show, and special performances for schoolchildren, as well as contributing to the enhancement of the facility after the 1995 renovation.

The organization managed contributions of up to $2 million annually and enlisted hundreds of community volunteers in its many endeavors to enhance the cultural landscape and fund improvements to the Pavilion facility.

In the 1990s, a shift took place in the concert industry, and fewer bands were booked at the Pavilion. Fewer acts were touring and the way negotiations were handled between the booking agent and the act managers changed.

The city sought to continue to attract the most popular acts by reconfiguring and expanding the facility from 8,500 seats to 12,500 seats. Frank O. Gehry returned to design the expansion of the facility in 1995-1996.

The expansion cost $20.1 million. Most of the money came from $18.7 million in revenue bonds issued by the city of Concord, which operated the Pavilion as a not-for-profit agency. The remaining $2 million was paid by the facility's concessionaire.

Even with the expansion, the facility was never able to recapture the number of acts or the attendance of the glory days.

In 2000, BGP took over the operations of the facility from the city. Shortly thereafter, its name was changed to the Chronicle Pavilion at Concord with the purchase of the naming rights by the San Francisco Chronicle.

BGP was purchased in 2001, along with its parent company SFX Promotions, by Clear Channel Communications, in 2005. Clear Channel spun off concert operations to Live Nation Worldwide, Inc., which books and operates the Pavilion today.

The Pavilion's latest name change took place in April 2006, when it became the Sleep Train Pavilion.

In 2009, Concord hired the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG), a consulting firm that specializes in analyzing and understanding event centers, to aid the city in evaluating options for the Pavilion's future.

SAG's analysis was broad-based, looking at a variety of aspects about the Pavilion's past performance and its future options. On Dec. 14, 2009, SAG presented their report and recommendations to the Concord City Council:

  • Endorse the promoter/operator model that the city had been using for the operations of the Pavilion.

  • Negotiate first with Live Nation because they were the company best positioned to successfully operate the facility. They dominate the amphitheater market and control many of the touring acts. They were also scheduling concerts at the Pavilion as "companion concerts" to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.

    At the end of SAG's presentation, the council endorsed both recommendations and directed the staff to negotiate with Live Nation for the continued operation of the facility.

    The city of Concord paid for the construction of the Pavilion, and for the 2005 expansion, by selling bonds. The annual debt payment was $1.4 million until 2010 when the city refinanced $8 million of the remaining $12 million of Pavilion debt, significantly reducing the Pavilion's outside annual debt payment obligations from $1.4 million to approximately $445,000.

    The $8 million of outside debt the city converted to internal debt for the Pavilion carries significantly lower interest charges and extends the repayment term.

    Due to the refinancing, Concord has been able to meet all of its annual debt obligations for the Pavilion without general fund subsidy. Prior to the city's debt refinancing, the general fund was subsidizing between $400,000 and $500,000 of the Pavilion's debt annually.

    The Live Nation contract provides that Concord will receive a guaranteed lease payment of $500,000 and an additional $3 per ticket surcharge that produces between $300,000 and $350,000 additional compensation annually.

    The contract with Live Nation Worldwide Inc. to book and operate the Pavilion expires in December 2013. Over the last few months, the City Council has explored alternative ideas for the operation of the facility with the goal of reinvigorating the Pavilion.

    Our goal is to return this facility to a vibrant community asset. The new vision for the Pavilion may include greater diversification of the types of performances, and more frequent use of the facility.

    Helix is the mayor of Concord. Email him at columns@bayareanewsgroup.com.