The agreement was expected to bring between $800,000 and $1 million to the county annually; instead it brought in $125,000 over two years. Live Nation received $1.125 million over the term of the contract, plus a $110,000 termination fee.
Commissioners wanted to make sure the fees they were charging would pay for the upkeep of the venue, which opened in 2011 and was built on the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics shooting range at a cost of $6.1 million.
They also wanted to maintain a fund that could pay for upgrades. The original proposal was for a $25,000 fee, which would include security, ushers and everything else; the county would expect to get $3,000 of that fee per rental.
Commissioner Marvin Arrington said he thought that was too low of a take for the county, and proposed the $15,000 fee.
“I think you’ve got to make the rental number a little higher than $3,000,” he said. “It doesn’t get us where we need to be.”
Lionell Thomas, the director of Arts and Culture for Fulton County, said he expected to put on five shows this year, plus an additional 11 shows from Live Nation. So far, five shows have been announced, including The Jacksons this fall. Next season, Thomas said he expects 15 shows.
Thomas said he thought the $15 per ticket fee was competitive, but Rowe said that’s expensive for a venue fee. The total costs, he said, price Wolf Creek out of its league. Rowe said the Fox Theatre, for example, charges $35,000, plus a per-ticket fee of $2 or $3. Its capacity is 4,665.
“The Fox is half that, and it won’t rain inside the Fox,” Rowe’s business partner, Mark Skeete, said of the Wolf Creek costs. “They’re chasing promoters away.”
Rowe suggested Wolf Creek would be better off charging $20,000 for rental, and $5 per ticket, a rate that would be half the current total.
“What they’re trying to charge is unbelievable,” Rowe said. “They’re bringing harm to taxpayers.”
In the years after Wolf Creek first opened, it had trouble booking shows and selling tickets, but has been profitable since 2013. The amphitheater, which is similar in size to Chastain, is about 10 miles west of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The contract with Live Nation originally came about after a November 2016 audit of Wolf Creek found more than two dozen violations of county policy, 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.
At the time, County Manager Dick Anderson said the venue had been poorly managed and that local government did not belong in the entertainment business.