Freedom Hill Battles Onward

The fight between Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights, Mich., and Macomb County continues, with each side filing motions up to 200 pages in length in federal court.

The operators of the 7,000-capacity amphitheatre and the county in which it sits have been battling since last August, with shed owners Hillside Productions suing Macomb for $250 million. The lawsuit is just the latest chapter in an epic tale.

The story of Freedom Hill is a long one with an unusual ending. Like numerous amphitheatres, it was met with resistance by some neighbors concerned about noise and traffic. Unlike many battles, the facility won a federal court case against the city in March 2003 after Sterling Heights pulled the shed’s liquor license and land-use permit.

"Rarely does one hear such compelling and unrebutted evidence of the vindictive retaliatory action such as that taken by Defendant (City Manager Steve) Duchane and the City of Sterling Heights," U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds wrote in her decision.

The city settled with Hillside for $31 million.

Hillside built a sound wall at Freedom then tried to sell the shed to Palace Sports & Entertainment. It was a go until Macomb County disputed parking revenue, claiming it was owed all of it rather than a percentage. The change threw a wrench into negotiations with PSE, according to Hillside officials.

Last month, PSE chief operating officer Alan Ostfield testified that negotiations came to a "screaming halt" when the county Parks and Recreation Commission challenged the revenue, according to the Macomb Daily. Hillside officials consider this testimony "devastating" to Macomb’s defense.

Macomb claims Hillside is systematically hiding revenue and Judge Robert Cleland allowed the county to purse new avenues in its claim, the paper said. Macomb is also claiming Hillside gains up to $1.6 million a year in advertising revenue on signage inside the venue but outside – where revenue is evenly shared – it’s $40,000 a year, according to the Daily.

Hillside spokesman Hank Riberas told the paper the exterior signage is basically 15 sites with little income.

"What the county is trying to do is smear by implication," Riberas said. "They’re planting in the minds of the media that there’s something sinister going on."

Each side has asked Cleland to impose sanctions on the other, according to the paper, and Hillside has submitted 20,000 pages of documents to the county. Hillside has reportedly complained that Macomb is giving short notice for depositions.

The trial is set for October but Cleland’s patience has already been reportedly tested by all of the motions and paperwork.

Macomb has scored one victory already. The county is to collect 1 percent of ticket sale revenues from the shed, but Hillside argued that did not include the lawn – only seats. Cleland ruled differently.