Organizers of Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival have submitted a petition to Manchester, TN officials for the event’s site, Great Stage Park, to be annexed from Coffee Country and into the city of Manchester. Currently, the 650-acre space resides in an unincorporated area of Coffee County just outside the Manchester city limits.
At the heart of this claim lies Bushy Branch Road. The road serves as the main entry point for up to 80,000 attendees per event at Great Stage Park. Bonnaroo, which is primarily owned by Live Nation, has been asking for years for repairs to be made to the deteriorating road.
In years past, each ticket purchased to the event included a small fee that went to Coffee County for retaining the services of paramedics and sheriff’s office deputies on site. Several years ago, Bonnaroo organizers approached the county government with a plan to use those fees to help maintain the road. The state of Tennessee agreed in 2017 to pay for 50% of the road expansion and 80% of the necessary bridge stabilization, according to the Tennessee Lookout.
However, while the state approved of the idea, Coffee County did not. The small county heavily relies on those fees and taxes each year. According to a 2019 analysis, Bonnaroo delivers $1.2 million in sales tax to the county every year, and the ticketing fee brought in roughly $270,000 to the county during “the festival’s best attendance years.” The ticket fee agreement expired two years ago, and parties from both sides have yet to reach another long-term agreement since then.
These factors are what brought Bonnaroo executive Jeff Cuellar to officially request the annexation on February 26th in a letter to city officials.
“Bonnaroo has been one of the longest running, and most successful festivals in the world, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and we are constantly evolving to ensure the best possible fan experience,” Cuellar said in his letter. “In recent months we have been approached by officials in the City of Manchester regarding the potential annexation of Great Stage Park into the City. Annexation carries with it the potential for positive impacts for both Great Stage Park, the local community, and the State of Tennessee.”
Annexing Great Stage Park from Coffee County and into Manchester would allow festival organizers to deal directly with the city rather than the county on future infrastructure projects. This would also make the city of Manchester the beneficiary of revenue generated from sales tax on Bonnaroo tickets.
Manchester Alderman Ryan French went into detail with the Tennessee Lookout on the mutual benefits of annexation.
“To me, Bonnaroo or Great Stage Park is like any other business that you are trying to attract or retain to our state. You can point to example after example across the state of Tennessee where cities and counties are making investments into infrastructure to recruit or expand manufacturing jobs and shopping centers, among other things,” French said. “Each of those investments has a return, and in this case the return far outweighs the investment risk. I think at the end of the day Manchester wants the same in Bonnaroo as Bonnaroo wants in Manchester, a great partner. Manchester is Bonnaroo’s home, and it should always be.”
Bonnaroo organizers have also set their sights on future infrastructure projects for the park, including upgrading water and sewer systems. The festival expanded its shower and indoor bathroom facilities several years ago.
“Solidifying Bonnaroo’s customer experience impacts the festival’s standing in an increasingly competitive live event marketplace and will yield an even stronger business platform for many years to come,” Cuellar said in his letter. “Benefits such as infrastructure upgrades will also provide further opportunities for use of the park for additional events which will prove to be a significant economic driver for the community and the state.”
The annexation proposal submitted by Cuellar requires approval by the Manchester city council. The request, sent on February 26th, has begun a 30-day review period to start the annexation process. Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell did not respond to the Tennesee Lookout‘s request for comment on Monday.
Bonnaroo is currently slated to take place September 2nd–5th, 2021.
[H/T Tennessee Lookout]