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The sunshine boys.


It looks like it. Landing stilts are extended. Colored lights flicker and strobe. Sound pulses out of the side. Sight it from a distance and you'd swear it's a monstrous extraterrestrial vehicle that gulps down automobiles and nibbles people for dessert.

So it does. Last year, it devoured 318,000 people and gobbled more than 100,000 cars. The music pilgrims trekked in for 48 shows and made Deer Creek Music Center a sensational success.

Steve Sybesma and David Lucas, the guys behind Sunshine Promotions, Inc., took a big gamble, battled naysayers at every step for years, built a gigantic entertainment center miles from nowhere and saw their dream emerge as a national entertainment landmark. The Sunshine boys did it ! When ticket and concession sales were totaled, gross revenue topped $7 million. That take tossed the company into the black ink in just five months. Lucas and Sybesma projected attendance of 280,000 for the season, but 38,000 more bodies eagerly packed the hall. Each handed over a ticket normally priced between $20 and $25, except for Frank Sinatra, who commanded a premium $50. Concert goers approved.

Show biz approved, too. The industry magazine Poll Star held a contest and a jury of 30 peers voted Deer Creek the "Best New Concert Venue in 1989." Senior editor, Gary Bongiovann, commented: My guess is they voted for Deer Creek based on the fact they've heard so many good things about it." The good things were said by acts who played the center.

Last year, there was somebody for everyone: The Beach Boys, Chicago, Perry Como, Sheena Easton, Amy Grant, The Grateful Dead, Bob Hope, Englebert Humperdinck, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Elton John, Kenny G., Willie Nelson, Sandi Patti, Diana Ross, Doc Severinsen, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, George Strait, Randy Travis, Hank Williams, Jr., and 29 others.

This season, the Sunshine boys are coming up with even greater crowd pleasers. Lucas rattles them off: "The season opens May 19 with Najee, a jazz group. Country singer Hank Williams, Jr., comes in on the 25th. Then, another group, Aerosmith, and Don Henley, who just won a Grammy. The New Kids On The Block are scheduled for two performances-both sold out. We'll also have the Beach Boys, Chicago, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Anita Baker, Fleetwood Mac.

The stars are the glitz, so they get the billing and applause. But who ever thinks of the people who make the fun and entertainment happen? The showmen get the complaints. Where's the gratitude?

Sybesma and Lucas went through rancorous zoning meetings, sullen neighborhood association gatherings and bitter court bickering, with more to come. They were profaned, restrained and defamed.

Today, the two guys book the acts and manage the thriving 18,000-capacity amphitheater. They have to fill 6,200 covered seats and 1 1,800 more spots where attendees lounge on their own picnic blankets spread on a grassy, bulldozer-built slope.

Conseco, Inc., the Carmel-based insurance company put up $12 million to build the facility. Pacers Basketball Corporation, which oversees Market Square Arena, has all operations duties, including traffic control. Ogden Allied, Inc., runs the concessions.

With all their help, the Sunshine boys are the key players.

Steve Sybesma was born in Michigan City and moved to Indianapolis when he was 2 years old. After his graduation from Indianapolis' Northwest High School, he worked as a heavy-equipment operator on construction jobs, sold insurance and registered at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis to take general college courses. In 1972, he and a buddy decided it would be a lark to book some acts. They began with barely known talents and fringe houses such as Melody Skateland and the Rivoli Theater in Indianapolis.

Sybesma's rival at the time was David Lucas. Lucas is an Indianapolis native, was graduated from that city's North Central High School and went into sales for local retailers for about six years before starting his own entertainment company.

There were only so many gigs to book in the market. Chicago and Cleveland promoters dipped the cream because they had the reputations and contacts. Lucas and Sybesma were on the outside; two struggling, relatively unknown agents trying to whip the big boys and each other. The profit was paltry. The only answer was to team up. Lucas took the initiative, phoned Sybesma and asked if he would bring his formidable understanding of the business to Sunshine and help expand into out-of-town markets.

Sybesma became the second Sunshine boy in 1974. A year later, the business bloomed. The big leg-up was booking two Rolling Stones concert dates into Bloomington and Louisville, Ky. Those shots gave them the muscle to get into contact with other top acts and even larger houses. The out-of-towners faded away and Sunshine took over the Indianapolis scene, adding spots in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia and Puerto Rico.

The music center dream came to them in the early '80s. Says Lucas: We wanted to ensure our company's viability in the marketplace. We saw that over the past 1 0 years or so, an amphitheater was being built in practically every city. Sooner or later, there was going to be one built here, either by ourselves or by some competitor. So we toured around, looked at a dozen or so (facilities) and said, 'Let's take the best of all of them and build one in our home market."

Think of it. No smoke-filled room, but clear, open air. Perfect acoustics. Amiable surroundings. just you alone with 1 7,999 other people soaking up the melodies.

What a hassle that vision has been! Lucas and Sybesma threatened to land their saucer in Westfield, and hit a deflector shield. They were busing people in from illinois and everyplace else to pack zoning meetings to keep us out," says Sybesma.

The alternate landing strip was White River State Park next to the Indianapolis Zoo. Opposition reared up again, Lucas admits, but we were voted 12 to zero in favor by the board. Then we were voted 11 to one in favor of the final site that was chosen. What happened was that after all of the controversy leading up to the votes in our favor, we did construction studies and determined it was economically infeasible to build on that property because of the poor soil conditions. The ground was soggy. It was going to double the price to $24 million."

Finally, they found 220 boondock acres in Hamilton County. With a population density of two people and one cow per square mile, nobody could fight it, right? Wrong ! A major unfriendly in the pastoral picture was John R. Price, a Noblesville attorney. He represented "Residents Against Detrimental Development" or RADD, for short. (Some folks add four more letters and call it RADDical.)

Gradually, the jeering section lost some of its voice and verve. Tempers were tempered. Lucas and Sybesma are pleased that "many people in RADD called and wrote letters and said they were impressed with the facility and how we ran it. We had several 'neighborhood nights' and invited the neighbors as our guests for different shows. They said it was totally opposite of what they had expected and they would go to concerts there. When you get calls like that and you see somebody who was adamantly opposed to you turn around, that helps a lot. We were fortunate."

Both men manage all phases of Sunshine's work, but credit each other with special abilities. "Steve is real good with detail and accounting. He also does bookings, although I do most of them," says Lucas. "I'm real good with marketing and advertising."

"There is so much to do anymore," Sybesma chimes in. "We both dig in and do everything. One of us may do a little more in one area, but if I'm gone, Dave can do everything I do and if Dave's gone, I can do everything he does. We kind of fill in for each other."

"To pick the acts, we look at everybody who is going to be on tour," Lucas says. "We look at their past performances, not only here but in other markets. You can do it through their record sales, air play on radio and the publicity about them. We phone their agent or their agent calls us. We're in contact with every major agency every day."

Now that Deer Creek is settled in, the options it offers are rampant. Ask about the catered affairs held under yellow- or green-striped tents in the private picnic plaza. Check on sit-down dinners for 900 or stand-around receptions for 1,300. Maybe you're in the market for one of the 79 private boxes? Best seats in the house. Great for business entertainment. Forget it. They're sold out for the season at $6,000 a pop.

Sunshine is the springboard for Sybesma and Lucas to dive into many other enterprises. "We keep expanding our business interest, diversifying and making those we have stronger," says Sybesma.

The Sunshine boys are partners in Sand Creek, Inc., which owns the Deer Creek Music Center. They have plans to develop more amphitheaters in neighboring states. Then there is the Karma record store in Anderson; a piece of WGBF AM-FM radio in Evansville; Sunshine Studios in Indianapolis, where radio spots are recorded for them and others; a silk screen and embroidery firm called Suntex, Inc., that puts logotypes and messages on T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and other sportswear; and they have a piece of Global Management, which handles building management services.

Sunshine Promotions is also helping to renovate the 3,000-seat Palace Theater in Louisville, Ky., and is building custom homes in Carmel and Zionsville through a company called D.R. Posha. And, "we are working on an amphitheater in Columbus, Ohio, and a large entertainment club that will be downtown on the Circle," adds Lucas.

When asked what they want to be doing 10 years from now, both men speak together. "I want to be doing the same thing. I want to have the Columbus amphitheater finished. I want us to have a greater presence in the markets we're in, instead of widening our territory. I'd like to see our Suntex printing company go national. I'd like to have all our plans work out." At only 40-something, they just might be able to pull it off.
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Title Annotation:Profile; David Lucas and Steve Sybesma of Sunshine Promotions, concert promotion company
Author:Johnson, J. Douglas
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:Goodbye blues.
Next Article:Indiana's Small Business Person of the Year.

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