Fulton County Manager claims venue can make hundreds of thousands more with third-party participation.
COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Wolf Creek Amphitheater, which straddles the southern edge of Atlanta in South Fulton County, is much like that superstar athlete that no one wanted in the beginning. We’ve all heard the story of an unwanted athlete or undrafted free agent in the pros. But then, one management team with a vision and faith took a chance on this reject and, with hard work and dedication and the cultivation of talents that others could not discern, the athlete mushroomed into one of the biggest stars in the game. Now every other team that once hated him, covets after him.
Wolf Creek finds itself in a seemingly similar, and very uncomfortable, position. The management team at Wolf Creek, led by Sandy Ward-Poag, and supported wholeheartedly by performers like R&B legend Keith Sweat, harnessed this diamond in the rough from its very inauspicious beginnings, when it was not aesthetically pleasing, couldn’t book beloved talent and had great difficulty filling up the venue. In fact, during Wolf Creek’s embryonic stages, other venues and promoters and corporations treated Wolf Creek like a contagious virus – something that should be quarantined alone on the south side where it could rot into oblivion.
But now, like a phoenix, Wolf Creek has risen to become one of the perennial superstars in the music game today in metro Atlanta. The past few years, through the work of the current management team, the amphitheater has outperformed just about every other venue in the city, attracting exponentially larger crowds each of the past four years. As Ward-Poag stated, Wolf Creek doesn’t so much host concerts as they hold mammoth parties in the open air with thousands of invitees – and do so with extremely reasonable prices in comparison to its competitors. Today, according to current Wolf Creek management, those same ticket agents and promoters who used to hold their noses as if Wolf Creek reeked from an odious odor have now done a 180-degree turn. They are now lusting after Wolf Creek like a girlfriend that got away, reaching out with envious eyes to get a piece of the increasing profits.
The problem is, the one team that “drafted” Wolf Creek and believed in its talent – the original independent management team – may lose control of Wolf Creek to a “free agency”-type process — if Fulton County has it’s way.
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) sees things from the opposite end of the spectrum. They view the venue as teeming and brimming with potential for even greater results. Therefore, the BOC voted almost unanimously (with one abstention) to put the management of Wolf Creek up for bidding to see if the venue can draw even greater revenues than it already doing today.
According to Fulton County manager Dick Anderson’s analysis, Wolf Creek can draw in hundreds of thousands of dollars more with new management and/or promotion in place.
To be clear: no decision has been made by the BOC to outsource anything … yet. They are, in sports parlance, looking at the marketplace to see if other “teams” can put together an attractive package to take the “free agent” Wolf Creek venue to higher heights.
“What the commission decided in its Aug. 17 meeting to authorize the county manager to do an RFP – a “Request for Proposal” – to solicit proposals for outsourcing with the understanding that we could say ‘no,’ that we could pick one, we could pick none,” said Commissioner Lee Morris. “But at this point there was a general consensus by the commission to see what the marketplace was like out there for this.
“We in the county may find that none of the proposals are acceptable and we’ll continue to run the thing in-house. And it’s not all going to be about money. It’s going to be about what it means to the community. It’s also the conditions and other things the proposers might insist on,” Morris added.
Supporters of Wolf Creek in its current incarnation are vehemently opposed to the county stepping in now to make any changes, especially since it has grown exponentially — on its own, they add — the past four or five years. Even the likes of Keith Sweat, who has performed at the venue since its infancy, felt compelled to speak before the BOC in order to convey the deep levels of affinity for what he called a “world-class venue.” Sweat lauded its management team, the facilities and customer service he’s been provided.
“If something is not broken, then I don’t know why you want to try to fix it,” he told the BOC on Aug. 17.
Wolf Creek is not only a place where beloved music genres are embraced like family (R&B, jazz); it is not only a place where fans get to hear the type of music and artists other venues refuse to accommodate; it is not only a place where older fans feel safe; it is also a place where dreams can be actualized, as the BOC heard from the testimony of Eddie Rush of Twilight Productions 2:
“I’ve been at Wolf Creek for three years promoting shows, and I must say that Wolf Creek gave me an opportunity to do a lot of shows,’ he said, claiming he’d been rejected by Chastain because they already have a minority promoter. “So if I can’t go back to Wolf Creek and do shows, where do a minority promoter go?”
Rush summarized the sentiments of all the supporters of Wolf Creek when he added that “before, where were the other promoters to come out and promote shows? No one wanted to take a chance (with Wolf Creek). I was asked three years ago to come out and do shows with Wolf Creek has taken off and now everybody wants to be a part of it,” he said to thunderous applause. “Where were you (promoters, ticket agencies) three, four, five years ago?”
Fulton County and the BOC don’t anticipate the return of RFP’s (or bids) until around December, conveying that Wolf Creek could continue to be run “in house” (independently). But it feels having a third party could be potentially good for the county, where the venue can be run better, or more efficiently and multiply its revenue stream.
But according to the Wolf Creek supporters, it is already being run well — very well — and they want the county and outsiders to leave it alone.
Main photo: talive.com