Kanye West brings music, plenty of drama to Georgia World Congress Center

Kanye West appears on a white field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to preview his upcoming album "Donda."

Credit: Courtesy of Apple Music

Credit: Courtesy of Apple Music

Kanye West appears on a white field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to preview his upcoming album "Donda."

It was only a few hours before Kanye West’s second listening party at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and there was a major problem.

The mercurial performer hadn’t paid his tab for rehearsal space at the neighboring convention center, a sales executive wrote in an email, and the building was sealed off to him until he settled his bill.

State officials had devoted hundreds of hours preparing for the runup to the show, an Aug. 5 party to fine-tune West’s album. They secured traffic plans, electrical work, plumbing services, internet access and dozens of security officers. Agency board members made special requests for tickets. An emergency drape was delivered.

But West hadn’t yet paid a contract of $218,780 for his Aug. 4 rehearsal, and Georgia World Congress Center Authority officials wrote that they had to lock several exhibit halls he planned to stage preparations for his act until they received payment.

“They have not signed anything, provided insurance or paid. So our building is locked down until that changes. And receive all docs signed and with payment. Oh fun!” Kim Allison, a sales director with the Georgia World Congress Center, wrote to several of her colleagues.

It has been a peculiar time for the state’s convention business, which is just roaring back to life after a year of lost business and canceled events.

Agency staffers are fielding routine calls from organizers worried about the pandemic, others confused about whether Atlanta’s mask mandate applies to the state-owned facility. (It does not.)

Kanye West set up makeshift living quarters at Mercedes-Benz Stadium while working on his upcoming album, "Donda."

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But little could rival the bizarre experience with West, who moved into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a short time to work on his album and, a review of hundreds of documents obtained through a public records request shows, injected plenty of drama into the staid offices of the GWCC.

A few weeks earlier, West headlined a sold-out listening party at the stadium before 40,000 fans for “Donda,” a yet-to-be-released album named for his mother, who died in 2007 at the age of 58. Some bought tickets for the July 22 event for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market.

West set up shop in the massive stadium following the show, sharing a viral image on social media of his makeshift living quarters, consisting of a twin bed and a TV, and caused a stir when he showed up at the Atlanta United game a few days later.

Kanye West created a stir when he appeared at an Atlanta United game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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The details of his arrangement with Mercedes-Benz Stadium officials weren’t available, and a spokeswoman declined to comment. West’s aides also didn’t return messages seeking comment.

But records involving the GWCCA, a state agency that leased him the rehearsal space next door, were obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.

The documents show a frenzy of activity after West announced a second listening party — and booked space in Exhibit Hall C of the sprawling convention hall to prepare for the act.

Soon, agency officials received requests from members of the authority’s board for tickets to the event. Dr. Jeff Payne, an ophthalmologist appointed to the board in 2018, asked whether there were enough available to bring his two daughters. (“You have made my daughters day,” he responded in an email when he was told yes.)

Before the show, emails went out advising staff to expect 2,000 people at the rehearsals and strict rules banning photography and filming. “Please do not have phones out” when at West’s event, it stated. The schedule said he’d need the space before the Aug. 5 showcase as well to stage his show.

The late scheduling of West’s second event forced the International Association of Venue Managers, which booked a major conference Aug. 3-5 in Atlanta, to move its final party from the stadium. Emails show organizers were offered suites for West’s concert but it’s “totally not iavm’s preference.”

A few hours after his rehearsal, a specialty company was summoned to deliver drape for West. Apparently, officials noted, West made a last-minute decision to add another wall of pipe and drape to create a walkway and secure area behind the makeshift dressing rooms in the cavernous exhibit hall.

As Aug. 5 dawned, Allison sent her colleagues at the agency a note with the subject line: “Kanye hasn’t paid.” A flurry of emails followed, as the agency’s staffers raced to contact West’s managers and secure the payment. State officials said the contract was soon fulfilled, though they offered no other comment.

So would the state authority host West again? Officials declined to say.

But Frank Poe, the agency’s executive director, might as well have answered it in an email exchange the day before the show.

“How did we come out with this event,” he asked Joe Bocherer, one of his top deputies, who responded that proceeds from his contract should net the agency “greater than 40%-50%.”

Poe answered with a one-word response.