When Wolf Creek Amphitheater opens its doors for Funk Fest May 19, patrons won’t notice much difference at the venue they’ve been visiting since it opened in 2011.
It’s behind the scenes that everything changed.
In December, Fulton County agreed to hand over control of the venue south of Atlanta to the concert promoter Live Nation. That’s after a “damning” audit found mismanagement including cash management issues, preferential treatment for some vendors and a ticket-printing practice that gave complimentary access to thousands more people than was allowed, overcrowding the facility.
It is unclear if criminal charges are possible a Fulton County spokesperson said.
The venue’s three employees were fired this month — Lisa Rushin and Sandy Poag on Feb. 3 and Tiffany Cobb the next week. All were accused of repeatedly violating county policy.
“The successful operation of County business depends upon staff being trustworthy and forthright, and your actions, … has (sic) compromised your ability to perform your job duties,” said Cobb’s termination letter. Her last day with the county was Feb. 10.
Lisa West, an attorney for Rushin and Poag, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In November, after the audit was made public, she said her clients “have done nothing wrong.”
Despite the issues, Wolf Creek saw some measure of success. In 2016, the first year that income and expenses for the venue were not combined with other funds, Fulton County saw a profit of nearly $40,000. The venue had lost money until 2013, and the county had subsidized its operations in the past.
Fulton County ran the venue on its own before deciding last year to hand operations over to Live Nation. County leaders expect to make more money with the agreement.
According to the contract, the company will keep the first $500,000 the venue brings in to pay for operating expenses. After that, Live Nation and Fulton County will split the profits 50-50.
The county will get 25 percent of any sponsorship rights. Naming rights will also be available for the venue.
Akeasha Branch, the general manager for Wolf Creek, also manages Lakewood Amphitheater for Live Nation. She said the audit shouldn’t affect people’s willingness to go to Wolf Creek to listen to music.
“My hope is that people look at the venue and think of great concerts there, and great experiences,” she said. “We hope we have what fans want to come and see.”
Jazz and R&B shows will make up much of the lineup, Branch said. But some additional musical genres may be added to the performance roster.
Before Fulton signed the contract with Live Nation, some residents expressed concern that the takeover would change Wolf Creek’s character and drive up prices. While some concerts may cost more —the price depends on the artist — Branch said concertgoers shouldn’t see unwanted changes.
“Our goal is to put shows in there that will sell tickets,” she said.
Parking will still be free, though there will be an option to buy VIP parking. Food and drinks can still be brought in, but more food will be available for purchase. Concession areas will be upgraded, as will technical aspects of the venue, to allow for better sound, lighting and production. The improvements should allow Wolf Creek to invite additional touring acts, Branch said.
Branch plans to meet with residents about the changes to the venue and to solicit their input. While the dates for Funk Fest have been announced, other acts have yet to be scheduled.
Live Nation plans to market the venue, and its shows, to raise awareness. Branch said she wants residents in Roswell to come to Wolf Creek for artists they would enjoy.
“Our goal is if someone doesn’t know (Wolf Creek), they will,” she said.
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