CITY HALL — After a nine-year absence, the surreal sights and sounds of Cirque du Soleil will return to the city where it made its American debut and first experienced commercial success, helping launch a more than two-decade career entertaining audiences across the globe.
The City Council on Tuesday authorized City Manager Lamont Ewell to enter into a contract for the world-renown acrobatic troupe to bring its newest production — KOOZA — back to the 1550 parking lot, which is located adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier.
It’s Cirque’s first appearance in Santa Monica since 2000.
The troupe was founded in 1984 by Guy Laliberté, who brought the performances to Santa Monica in 1987, becoming a beachside entertainment fixture for several years.
“The city of Santa Monica is dear to Guy Laliberté’s heart and to a lot of people who have been fortunate (to be) in the touring shows,” Sylvain Guimond, the touring director, said.
KOOZA tells the story of a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world, combining two well-known circus traditions — acrobatics and clowning — in its performances, according to its Web site.
Cirque plans to occupy 721 of 1017 total spaces in the 1550 lot from mid September through December, starting performances in October. The company is also seeking to lease a portion of land on nearby Civic Center property to use for overflow parking, holding roughly 400 spaces.
The temporary lot will be located at the future Palisades Garden Walk, which is bounded by Olympic Drive to the south, Ocean Avenue to the west, Main Street to the east and the I-10 Freeway to the north. A shuttle service is also being proposed to run from the Civic Center Parking Garage and the 2030 South Beach lot.
The proposed rental fee for the 1550 lot during the three months is $953,000. The parking lot on Main Street is expected to generate $50,000 in revenue for City Hall.
Parking remains a concern among businesses owners on the pier, who believe the loss of spaces in the 1550 lot will negatively impact operations.
“As you know, Cirque stands to boost the local economy but will regrettably do so at a substantial cost to Pacific Park,” Mary Ann Powell, the CEO of Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, said.
Powell added that through experience and independent research, she is certain that Cirque occupying three-quarters of the lot will impact coastal access and parking for the pier and beachgoers.
“This will cause us to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said.
The 1550 lot has been host to several shows over the past several years, including Cavalia, an equestrian/dance program from Canada, and Ashes and Snow, a nomadic, multi-media art exhibit.
Some business owners complained about Cavalia’s impact to the pier, noting that because it was open only during specific times, most people drove to the pier for the show and left when it was over, taking up parking spaces that would normally be used by pier visitors.
The acrobatic show has the support of many hotel operators and restaurant owners who believe Cirque will boost the local economy.
“This seems to be a no-thinker,” Jeff King, the owner of Ocean Avenue Seafood and iCugini, said. “The hospitality community … is more challenged since I have ever been in business.
“We need all the help and benefit we can get.”
Studies by Cirque show that live entertainment goers spend about $50 within a five-mile-radius of the event location, according to city staff who estimate that if half of the projected 170,000 Cirque patrons are new visitors to the city, there would be more than $4.2 million spent in Santa Monica.
Michael Farzam, who owns three motels on Ocean Avenue, said that the return of Cirque will also stimulate spending by local residents.
“It’s great publicity and advertising really for Santa Monica as a whole,” he said.