Three entertainment companies, including the world’s largest concert promoter, submitted proposals to take over the operation of south Fulton’s Wolf Creek Amphitheater.
Earlier this month, Fulton County, which now manages the facility, released an audit that showed more than two dozen violations by amphitheater employees of county policy, including preferential treatment for some vendors and a ticket-printing practice that gave complimentary access to thousands of people, sometimes overcrowding the facility.
While the county planned to outsource the amphitheater’s management even before it made the findings public, the issues give a new-found urgency to the plan to cede day-to-day control of the facility’s operations.
“It does provide some degree of legitimacy to why we need to do this,” Fulton Chairman John Eaves said. “The timing of all of it is, I think, good.”
When the amphitheater first opened in 2011, the county had trouble booking shows and selling tickets. For the past three years, the venue has been profitable with a mix of R&B and jazz acts.
The bidders to manage the facility are Live Nation, KDS Entertainment and a combined proposal from Platform Promotions and Plan It Green.
The companies’ proposals are not yet public. According to the county’s request for proposals from potential managers, the amphitheater will have at least 20 concerts or special events a year.
Eaves said the board of commissioners expects to make a selection the first week of December. Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson said in a statement that having a naming rights sponsor, as well as other sponsors, could “greatly enhance” Wolf Creek.
“We were delighted with responses to the Request for Proposals, and believe the new private management model will bring substantial benefits in terms of cultural offerings and improved financials, with none of the risk of being in the entertainment business,” he said.
Live Nation is the largest concert promoter in the world and in Atlanta currently manages Lakewood Amphitheatre and the Tabernacle, and Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta. In addition to bringing high-wattage tours from acts spanning Beyonce, Adele, Willie Nelson and Sting, the promoter is also the muscle behind the annual Music Midtown festival, which has routinely attracted more than 50,000 music fans per day at its Piedmont Park home. No one from Live Nation would comment about its proposal.
The company also struck a deal last year with the Atlanta Braves to develop and manage the Roxy Theatre, a new 4,000-capacity venue adjacent to Sun Trust Park in Cobb County.
KDS Entertainment is managed by Keith D. Sweat, an R&B singer and radio host who has performed at the amphitheater. Sweat’s booking agent is the husband of one of Wolf Creek’s three employees. One of the audit’s findings was that the spouses of the amphitheater’s employees were working at the amphitheater, and making management decisions, though they were not employed by the county.
Neither Sweat nor his booking agent could be reached for comment.
John Eaton, chairman of the board for Plan It Green, said he has been involved in Atlanta’s arts community for several years. Jennifer Pasley, Plan It Green’s co-founder, “was the one who started the concerts in south Fulton,” Eaton said.
“She built the audience down there,” he said. “We’ve been involved from the very beginning.”
Eaton said he hadn’t managed a venue like the amphitheater before, but has been involved in the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina and the International Hispanic Theatre Festival in Miami. Kansas City’s Platform Promotions, he said, has been involved in festivals. No one from that company could be reached for comment.
“It’s a matter of booking acts,” Eaton said. “There’s nothing complex about that.”
Fulton County will continue to own the facility, and Eaves said he sees new management as a way to run the amphitheater more efficiently and more effectively. The county also has an opportunity to earn more income with a professional manager, he said.
In the past, county residents have expressed concerns that new management would increase ticket prices or otherwise change the facility. Eaves said those are “legitimate” concerns, but that an improved experience is worthwhile.
“The quality of the performances has never been in question,” he said. “This is an opportunity to build on a foundation.”
— Staff writer Melissa Ruggieri contributed to this story.