Live Nation is buying Observatory North Park and Observatory Santa Ana


Live Nation, the world’s largest concert and live events production company, has purchased one of Southern California’s largest independently owned music venues — the 1,000-capacity Observatory Orange County in Santa Ana — and is finalizing its acquisition of San Diego’s 1,100-capacity Observatory North Park.

The move comes less than five months after Live Nation signed a deal to exclusively book performers at the two venues.

Both venues were owned and operated by the same parent company, the Orange County-based Observatory LLC, which formed SD Observatory LLC in 2015 when it bought what is now Observatory North Park from its previous owners.

The North Park Observatory covers 32,000 square feet. It has presented such established acts as Queens of the Stone Age, Los Lobos and Arctic Monkeys, along with such rising talents as Phoebe Bridgers, dvsn and Greta Van Fleet, whose sold-out 2018 show there grossed $43,450 in ticket sales.

In 2018, the San Diego and Santa Ana venues presented a combined 740 concerts, 200 of which were held at the North Park location. Observatory Orange County contains both a 1,000-capacity main venue and a smaller, 300-capacity club called the Constellation Room.

“We are proud to bring both of these popular music halls into our family of great venues throughout Southern California and the country,” Ron Bension, president of Live Nation’s Clubs & Theater division, said in a statement. “Both observatories have a strong fan base in their respective markets and offer great musical experiences. We’re looking forward to continuing that tradition.”

Courtney Dubar, an Observatory managing partner, sounded equally enthusiastic.

“We’re pleased with Live Nation’s plans for these two amazing venues,” Dubar said. “Great buildings with great fan bases in two extraordinary musical markets. They’re in good hands.”

No price has been disclosed for the purchase of the Santa Ana venue and pending purchase of Observatory North Park. Whatever the price, the acquisition of Observatory North Park will further increase Live Nation’s already formidable footprint in San Diego County.

The company owns and operates the area’s largest concert venue, the nearly 20,000-capacity North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly Mattress Firm Amphitheatre), which last year celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Live Nation also has exclusive concert booking agreements with San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl and SDSU’s Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre. In late 2017, Live Nation signed a five-year deal to manage El Cajon’s 1,142-seat East County Performing Arts Center. That venue has been shuttered since 2009. After undergoing more than $8 million in repairs and improvements, it will re-open this fall as the Magnolia Performing Arts Center.

Both the San Diego and Santa Ana venues had previously done the majority of their booking in-house, before signing a deal with Live Nation in December. Observatory North Park has also done some co-bookings with two of San Diego’s top independent promoters and venue operators, the Casbah and the Belly Up, both of which continued to do periodic co-bookings after Live Nation’s booking deal with Observatory North Park went through five months ago.

The purchase of the North Park venue appears unlikely to change that co-booking policy here, according to Casbah honcho Tim Mays.

“I don’t think it is going to have an impact,” Mays said via email Monday morning. “We will still be booking shows there on a regular basis.” Those sentiments were seconded by Belly Up Entertainment President Chris Goldsmith.

Observatory North Park was built in 1928 as the 731-seat North Park Theater. Lyric Opera San Diego owned and operated the historic venue from 2005, when it reopened after extensive rebuilding. In 2011, Lyric declared bankruptcy and ceased its programming.

In 2013, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Margaret Mann approved an ownership transfer of the theater to David Cohen, Bobby Jones and the Verant Group, which owns a number of San Diego restaurants. This transfer took place a year after Cohen and his partners bought Lyric’s $4 million mortgage for an undisclosed amount. He and his partners later agreed to assume interest on the note and pay $245,000 to settle some of the claims against Lyric Opera and to purchase the theater’s audio and lighting equipment.

The North Park Theater was sold in 2015 by the Verant Group to SD Observatory LLC for an undisclosed sum.