Freedom Hill Sues County

The owners of Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights, Mich., filed a lawsuit in federal court against their landlord, Macomb County, March 31st due to a dispute over parking fees.

Macomb County officials voted unanimously to negate an agreement to share parking receipts with the shed during a March 23rd closed-door session. The decision “shocked” owner Hillside Productions, which had a 75/25 percent split with the county.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, accuses the county of breach of contract and denial of due process among other complaints. Damages are unspecified. Hillside asked the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission to rescind its decision and the commission refused.

“We’re not going to give up that money, which belongs to taxpayers,” county commissioner Phil DiMaria, who also serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission, told the Detroit Free Press.

The refusal prompted the immediate filing.

“Time is truly of the essence here,” Hillside spokesman Hank Riberas told Pollstar. “We’re in April already and our season typically starts the last week of May or first week of June. You’ve got to get your bookings put together right now.”

The 35- to 40-date summer concert season is in jeopardy because the commission’s decision directly affects negotiations between Hillside and Palace Sports & Entertainment Inc., Riberas said. PSE is in the process of a 90 percent purchase of Hillside and the county’s decision will disrupt the sale, he explained, which in turn will put the season in jeopardy.

The commission also wants to raise the parking fee from $5 to $7 and the county could gain $100,000 a year by collecting 100 percent of the receipts, commissioners reportedly said.

The 7,000-capacity amphitheatre is located in the county’s Freedom Hill Park. Hillside and the Parks and Recreations Commission entered into an agreement in 2000 where the venue owner would get reimbursed for $2 million in improvements and development costs by collecting 75 percent of the parking fees, according to the lawsuit. The county would receive a minimum of $125,000 annually even if its 25 percent take was less than that.

Riberas would not specify damages sought but said they would be “considerable.”

Hillside was in an opposite predicament in 2003.

The company won a judgment against the City of Sterling Heights and received a $31 million settlement. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled that the city had gone too far in its efforts to shut the amphitheatre down, and lifted an injunction the city had filed against the venue. Edmunds’ ruling came in March of that year, giving Hillside about a month to book its summer season.