Showdown At NTelos

City attorneys and two councilmembers in Portsmouth, Va., reportedly hope to put the NTELOS Pavilion @ Harbor Center back under city control and end its formal relationship with Harbor Center Joint Venture, the shed’s management company headed by partners Bill Reid and Ken Young.

Details of a confidential letter from the attorneys were reported by The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, marking the first time city officials have raised the possibility of breaking ties, and a contract, with the company that has run the shed since 2001.

In the letter, attorneys claimed that HCJV hasn’t lived up to its end of the agreement.

“We told them we needed to try to end the relationship,” City Council member Ray Smith Sr. told the newspaper. “We just got tired of it. We just said, ‘Enough’s enough – let’s just get out of this.'”

Relations between the city and HCJV have deteriorated since last fall, when Portsmouth’s latest city manager discovered that his predecessors had not maintained a liaison to the city-owned nTelos Pavilion, nor could he locate financial and other records relating to its operations.

Reid told Pollstar at the time that HCJV was working with the new city manager by providing duplicates of those records and fine-tuning the management agreement, which has two years left on the clock.

Those negotiations, however, had a tendency to hang up over monetary damages from 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, which ripped the fabric roof off the facility. In addition, HCJV has spent more than $700,000 on improvements and equipment it claims the city must reimburse.

The replacement of the roof pushed the 2004 concert season back by two months, and the city reports that HCJV did not pay some $200,000 in rent that year.

HCJV counters that even though the roof was replaced, there continues to be serious safety concerns as well as drainage and leakage problems in the premium section of the venue.

“I think … some city staffers are trying to hide the real core issue,” Reid told Pollstar. “The real core issue is that when the city put the new roof in, many of the same design flaws that plagued the old roof were, for some unexplainable reason, repeated again in the new roof.

” When you get down to the nitty gritty, the critical component is the roof, and the functionality of the connector panel between the fabric roof and the stage house. At a … concert last September that was presented by the city, there were winds from 10 to 15 miles an hour,” Reid explained.

“[The roofing] ripped from the grommets and the grommets were flying around. They were flying projectiles. Everyone in the front rows got drenched, and there was water on stage.

“For obvious liability issues, that has to be fixed. It happened at the city’s own event. We made it clear that this is a situation that has to be fixed because we all know in the entertainment business that the roof has to be 100 percent functional,” he continued.

“What we’re saying is, ‘We’re not going forward with any shows or any season until you fix this,’ for all the obvious reasons. They said they would, but they have refused to put that promise in writing.”

City Councilman Stephen Heretick told The Virginian-Pilot that HCJV refuses to negotiate and, for that reason, he believes ending the contract two years early is preferable to continuing talks.

“All we’re doing is coming with offer after offer after offer,” Heretick told the newspaper. “It takes two to negotiate. They aren’t negotiating.”

Reid vehemently disputed Heretick’s comments.

“That’s absolutely not true. That flies in the face of everything that we’ve been doing. Everybody that’s involved knows that. But as I said, this has been going on five or six months,” Reid said.

“Back in the fall, we had a term sheet that we negotiated with city staff and a week later, we got a proposal from the city that in no way reflected that term sheet. It was sort of wild, and no one could explain it.

“But it appears clearly that the city has a severe left hand, right hand problem.”

There may be another problem at play as well. According to industry sources in the area, Portsmouth officials contacted another local promoter, presumably about managing the 6,500-capacity venue, some months ago. That might suggest the city is shopping for a better deal.

In the meantime, HCJV has laid off its full-time staff at nTelos Pavilion until the issue is resolved. Attorneys for Reid and Young acknowledge shows have been booked there for the summer, and lawyer Todd Fiorella continues to express optimism that something can be hammered out.

“It’s not that easy to just say we’re going to walk away,” Fiorella told the newspaper. “There are issues that need to be addressed on both sides.”