|Jason Lewis for Sentinel
Harold &?Belle’s fine dining restaurant has been a popular staple in the community for 40 years.
Did Entertainment Giant Lock Out Legendary Black Eatery From L.A. Live Development?
The African American community and concerned political officials have expressed their dismay this week with Anschultz Entertainment Group’s (AEG) decision to not follow through on their commitment to allow for popular Harold and Belle’s restaurant to open a satellite facility in downtown at “L. A. Live.”
Harold & Belle’s has mastered the art of fine dining in Los Angeles and for the past 40 years it has provided the most authentic New Orleans cuisine in California. According to reliable sources, AEG, a multi-faceted sports and entertainment conglomerate, that has recently developed an area downtown near the Staples Center, invited Harold & Belle’s to open a restaurant in its new facility called “L.A. Live.” AEG issued a letter-of-intent (LOI) to Harold & Belle’s, whose officials began making the necessary arrangements to open a satellite facility at the new location.
Al Honore, co-owner and vice president of Harold & Belle’s said that after he made all of the preliminary arrangements intending to move forward with the deal in good faith, AEG told him that the space was no longer available and had been rented out to another tenant. “They (AEG) were interested in leasing us a space in their development,” Honore said, “so a few weeks ago, we invited them to come over and review our restaurant to see what we were all about—how we operated our facility. Then they invited us to do a site visit of the available space and after the site visit, they offered us a letter-of-intent.”
Usually the LOI outlines the agreement between two or more parties before the formal contract is finalized. After the letter is issued, the receiving party would allow his attorney to review it to make sure all the legal nuances are observed so that the deal can go forward. Honore stated there were some questions that he wanted to clarify before the deal was finalized but Harold & Belle’s clearly was looking forward to opening another restaurant at “L.A. Live.”
Honore continued, “We needed to get some clarification on a number of the items that were attached to the letter-of-intent and I called them (AEG) on the 23rd (June 2008).”
[“I called] Ted Tanner to ask him to clarify some of the requirements. However, before I asked him the questions, he informed me that they had already signed a letter-of-intent with another company.”
“Was there anything that you did or did not do that precipitate their behavior (the rejection)?” he was asked.
“No!” he replied. He said he could not pinpoint anything that could have caused AEG to reject him.
Calls were made to Tanner, Kevin McDowell, senior vice president, Tim Leiweke, president and CEO, and Michael Roth, vice president of communications of AEG.
“For each of the 12 restaurants and club spaces within “L.A. Live,” we circulate LOI’s and negotiate with all interested owners and operators of establishments,” Roth said. “Each space is considered ‘available’ until an operator returns a signed lease. Unfortunately, up until now, there were always additional spaces to offer prospective tenants if a particular one was no longer available. However, we believe Harold & Belle’s would clearly be an asset to the downtown community and are already working to set up meetings with their ownership and other, nearby developers.”
L. A. City Councilman Herb Wesson said, “Anyone who misses an opportunity to have Harold & Belle’s, misses a great opportunity.”
“I think that it’s devastating that it’s happening and we must get to the root of it and find out how to solve the problem,” said Willis Edwards, NAACP national board member, “If they’re doing that type of business at the Staples Center that would be unkind to all of us. And I think that Black businesses deserve an opportunity go get in on all this major deals that are going on downtown.”
Edwards also said, “I do not know if they have any African American vendors there?”
Earl “Skip” Cooper II, the president and CEO of Black Business association was very optimistic in his assessment of the situation as he commented, “ I think it’s imperative that AEG make every effort to include ethnic representation that reflect our rich ethnic community of greater Los Angeles. Harold & Belle’s has been one of the outstanding restaurants in our community for over 30 years and I believe they would do quite well, if given the opportunity, to be located at L.A. Live. I feel that AEG is going to make a strong effort to include Harold & Belle’s and we hope our elected officials will implore AEG to have that rich ethnic diversity as tenants in L.A. Live.”
Cooper furthermore believed that Harold & Belle’s was not given a fair opportunity but he hoped, “the matter can be resolved because AEG is one of the more responsive corporations in Los Angeles.”
However, there seems to have been an attempted rapprochement on AEG’s part because some of its representatives visited the restaurant shortly after the deal fell apart. According to Honore, Lisa Herzlich came to see him along with another representative of the company. “She came and another vice president of community affairs, Martha Sausedo,” explained Honore. “And they expressed their apology and offered another project that is not being run by them; they are going to do another development across the street (from “L.A. Live”), but that’s not happening for three years.”
But that was not feasible because Honore was only interested in the “L.A. Live” project because it was happening now, not sometime promised in the distant future.