Music Midtown did not contribute to Piedmont Park Conservancy in 2015 and 2016 as in past years

This post has been updated with a couple of corrections:

By Maria Saporta

A week after Music Midtown entertained thousands of people – despite a steady rain on the second day – Piedmont Park is still in repair mode.

It is a delicate tightrope for people living in the heart of the city.

How does one put one city-wide festivals that bring life and fun to an urban area without completely disrupting the adjacent communities and our treasured green spaces?

Music Midtown

A soggy day impacted Music Midtown on Sunday, Sept. 18 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Music Midtown has become such a volatile topic in some quarters that it’s hard to find a balanced way to talk about the pros and cons while seeking ways to make most people happy.

As someone who has attended every Music Midtown in its four different locations over 20 years, I obviously enjoy going to festivals where I can hear a variety of bands and music.

Yet I’m also someone who has lived next to Piedmont Park for most of the past 46 years, and I have seen the toll that festivals take on our precious park.

In recent years, we have seen Piedmont Park become a weekly magnet for festivals – a park that’s supposedly off-limit to cars but often with so many vehicles in the park that it’s unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians.

Where’s the balance?

Here are two realities.

None of the money the City of Atlanta charges festivals to use the park is actually allocated to Piedmont Park. Instead, that money goes into the General Fund, or in the case of Music Midtown, to the Centers of Hope.

Music Midtown

People try to avoid mud puddles during Music Midtown 2016 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Second, the first three years that Live Nation put on Music Midtown in Piedmont Park, it made an annual $100,000 contribution to the Piedmont Park Conservancy.

But in 2015 and 2016, Music Midtown made no contribution to the Conservancy. The $400,000 rental fee that it paid the City went to help fund the Centers of Hope

It’s important to mention that the Piedmont Park Conservancy is unable to lease facilities to other groups during Music Midtown, so it ends up losing rental revenue during the festival.

Music Midtown does lease the Visitors Center and the Greystone (the former Bathhouse) from the Conservancy for its own uses. But during the festival, the Conservancy is unable to lease out its other facilities, such as Magnolia Hall.

There is something wrong with this picture.

“It would be nice if all the festivals contributed to the park for maintenance and upkeep,” said Mark Banta, president and CEO of the Piedmont Park Conservancy. “When we are asked, most people are surprised to learn that most of the festivals aren’t contributing to the maintenance and upkeep of the park. The city does not pass through any money from the festivals through to us.”

Banta said that he understands that between 85 percent and 90 percent of all permitted festivals in the City of Atlanta occur at Piedmont Park.

The City of Atlanta, has since stated that the Mayor’s Office of Special Events permits approximately 540 events in Atlanta a year, and less than 20 percent of outdoor events occur at Piedmont Park.

But the city did not differentiate on the size and scale of those events, and this issue warrants further review. My guess would be that the overwhelming majority of the city’s Class A and Class B events are taking place in Piedmont Park. 

“It’s an outcome of our success,” said Banta, who added the Conservancy has no deciding voice in whether Music Midtown or any other permitted festival is held in the park.

Music Midtown

Before the rain. People attending 2016 Music Midtown enjoying the festival (Photo by Maria Saporta)

All the Conservancy can do is encourage festival organizers to protect the park and return it to a state-of-good-repair after the event.

Banta said Music Midtown does especially well in taking preventive steps – by putting down protective flooring and instituting pre-event and post-event measures for park remediation. The City reinforced that point by saying Music Midtown spent $370,000 on protective flooring for the 2016 festival.

But it’s the “cumulative impact” of all the festivals – week after week – that packs down the soil and causes wear and tear on the park.

Banta, who used to be the general manager of Centennial Olympic Park, strongly believes in the ability to implement best practices in crowd control and traffic flow to minimize the impact on the park.

But when a heavy rain interrupts the festivals, like it did on Sept. 18, it is difficult to prevent areas from becoming muddy messes.

The City of Atlanta works with Live Nation on several issues, according to spokeswoman Jewanna Gaither.

“Live Nation made the call to evacuate the park,” she said. “The City was consulted, but ultimately, Live Nation made the call based on concert management best practices.”

She added that Live Nation “pays 100 percent of the remediation costs and performs the remediation as well.”

Music Midtown Piedmont Park

A week after 2016 Music Midtown, muddy spots still evident (Photo by Maria Saporta)

When asked about why Live Nation is no longer giving a contribution to the Conservancy, Gaither said to contact the Music Midtown promoters.

Several emails and voicemails were left with Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, as well as Holli Matthison, who handles marketing for Music Midtown, but there was no response. This story will be updated if and when they do respond.

Conlon has yet to return my phone calls or emails. Instead, he has used indirect channels to voice his complaints. In the interest of accuracy, this column has been updated with corrected information. 

But I still have not had an opportunity to ask Conlon directly why Music Midtown quit making a $100,000 contribution to the Piedmont Park Conservancy after several years of making that good will gesture.

Live Nation has had a particularly close relationship with the City under the administration of Mayor Kasim Reed. But 2017 will be his last year as mayor, and Live Nation will have to work with a new mayor.

Those running for office know they will have to listen to residents in the influential neighborhoods of Midtown, Virginia-Highland, Ansley Park and others.

Here are a few ideas.

All revenues made from renting out the city’s parks for festivals should go into a dedicated maintenance fund for parks – with a portion going to the host park.

The city also should try to spread festivals around to all corners of the city.

And Music Midtown, which holds one of the few gated and ticketed events in Piedmont Park, should do all it can to become a better friend to both the surrounding neighborhoods and the Piedmont Park Conservancy.

Remember, in 2018, Music Midtown will need all the friends it can get.

Piedmont Park Music Midtown

Piedmont Park’s meadow shows patches of green next to patches of mud – a week after Music Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

23 replies
  1. Abby Martin says:

    At the Council of Intown Neighborhoods and Schools Annual Principals Forum, the Grady High School principal reported that there were 220 tardies that day. High school parens in attendance noted that their kids couldn’t get through the traffic quagmire created on 10th Street to get into the school’s parking lot. The Midtown Music traffic quagmire lasted around two weeks.
    It’s time to move this event to Lakewood, the Georgia Dome or any other large arena that is designed to safely hold such large crowds. Piedmont Park is not set up for this size audience….and the Grady High School students need every second of instructional time mandated by the state. Or, does the Mayor only care about lining the pockets of music promoters athe the,expense of educating the youth of Atlanta?Report

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  2. Jeffrey Welch says:

    Maria, thank you for your reporting. It’s very sad to see the park revert back to its former pitiful condition after so many years of work and millions of dollars in investment. I can’t understand why the city would allow a festival to create a situation over the course of two days that’ll take years to repair, and years is not an exaggeration.Report

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  3. Robby Comer says:

    If it wasn’t for the Conservancy Piedmont Park would be a dump or people would try to make it a parking lot. The city charges 400,000 dollars and none of it goes back to the park !?!? Shame !!!Report

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  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    His Dishonor is interested in getting all of the income into the General Fund where he can spend it as and where he chooses, Piedmont Park is not on his priority list.Report

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  5. MidtownLover says:

    I live in Midtown and try to enjoy Piedmont Park almost every day.  Not only does Music Midtown disrupt the park for 3 weeks by limiting access, but as with this year, it completely destroys the park.  I am in complete agreement with the other comments that it is time to move this festival to a more appropriate location – not in the middle of a neighborhood.  Furthermore, the people who attend the event are not in-city people, and have little to no regard for the park nor the neighborhood.  The morning after, trash can be found strewn for blocks, not to mention in the park.  I would be more that willing to participate in a group to rally to move Music Midtown to Music Lakewood.Report

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  6. Patrick Paris says:

    Thank you Maria for this reporting. Everyone please write to Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council to insist that fees for festivals go to support the City Parks they are held in!Report

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  7. Angel L Poventud says:

    I really believe the answer is to move the event to the future Westside Park now.  Think about all the attention we can bring to the new park.  Generators and bathrooms are all brought into Piedmont Park, why not just set them up around the quarry?  The great views of the city, the access to the Bankhead Marta station as well as a great road network and most likely lots of room for parking cars as well if needed.  We need to really think about using the quarry next year for this event.Report

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  8. Jenni says:

    As someone who commutes by bike from the Beltline to 10th street, through Piedmont Park to Midtown I would also make the following requests of event promoters: if they need to block the bike lanes and / or the roads through the park, they should provide clearly marked detours letting pedestrians and cyclists know which way to go. The few weeks around Music Midtown, the route was different every day. Every cyclist got yelled at by event promoters for doing it “wrong,” but there was no clarity on which routes were actually open. Furthermore, the event promoters would tell us to go down one route, but that route would then be blocked by event vehicles. I think the event promoters would get some goodwill by posting fun signs politely directing walkers/bikers to the proper routes. If you shut down a road, you would tell the drivers how to detour safely. Do the same for cyclists in the park (please)!Report

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  9. Midtowndad says:

    I live across the street from the park and I jog there every day. I take my kids there to play on the playgrounds and to run in the fields. My family gets a membership at the pool every summer. We are members of the Conservancy. I love all the festivals that come to the park–including Music Midtown. But nothing is as disruptive and destructive as Music Midtown. To be honest, I don’t want MM to move to another location. But the management of the festival and the care and cooperation that Live Nation gives not only to the park, but to the public who enjoys the park on a regular basis, and the neighborhoods that surround it, that game needs to step up. A lot. The crews and security who set up and take down are rude to joggers, walkers, and cyclists. Someone here already mentioned signs. That’s just common sense. They can’t put up a sign at the head of a path? You know, so you don’t jog a quarter mile only to find out, after topping a hill where you couldn’t see that you’d have to turn around? And why do huge sections of the park need to be fenced off a week before the event? They can’t fence off the areas where heavy construction’s taking place, then on Friday put up the fences and gates for the event? And Live Nation should have to pay for the resodding of the fields, and for repaving the paths that get ruined by all the heavy equipment. Live Nation ought to have cleanup crews to scour the streets within three blocks of Piedmont Park as well. Attendees toss their garbage in people’s yards, in the gutters, and on the sidewalks. And they urinate. Everywhere. I know this sounds pretty ranty, but I think it really wouldn’t be that hard to make this a manageable event for all parties. There just needs to be a little more thought and care taken into consideration.Report

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  10. DaDragon says:

    @MidtownLover While I Agree that the 3 weeks of disruption are a little much,  I think your assumption that all attendees are not “in-city” people is way off base.  I know a large amount of people who live in town specifically so they can take advantage of things like this.Report

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  11. Guest says:

    and what really bothers me was I was working on that Sunday in Decatur/Emmory (N. Decatur Rd area) and at 10pm we had the wall of our place shake a little and could hear the bass thumping for almost an hour.  Sounded like a hot road with a huge radio system in our parking lot. To be that loud that late and that far away s UNCALLED FOR by any stretch of anyone’s imagination.  I know there were low clouds that helped carry the sound but remember the kids etc were trying to sleep.  I heard Decatur Police got so many calls on the noise it overload the phone system.Report

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  12. Moni Basu says:

    Thanks for this story, Maria.  I live near the park, too, and go for walks with my dog every day. I was appalled to see the condition of my green space after Music Midtown. And some people who park and walk on our streets block driveways and leave huge amounts of trash — including broken glass — everywhere. I believe the city needs to rethink the way Music Midtown goes down at Piedmont Park or reconsider the venue for this festival.Report

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  13. atlnativevahi says:

    Maria – I too live by Piedmont Park and have attended almost all Music Midtowns throughout its history.  I too think that Live Nation should do more to lessen the impact of the surrounding neighborhoods during the festival, and believe they should ensure that any damage to the park is quickly repaired.  But, and without knowing exactly what Live Nation’s contract with the city is, I think your headline “Music Midtown did not contribute money to Piedmont Park during 2015 and 2016” is misleading and unfair.   Should Live Nation make a “charitable donation” to the Piedmont Conservancy?  It sure would be nice if they did, but they are under no legal obligation to do so.  Do all the other events held in Piedmont Park make a donation to the Conservancy?  If so, then Live Nation is morally wrong but not legally wrong.  It is my understanding that Live Nation’s contract is with the city – not the conservancy.  I think it’s the city’s responsibility to make sure a large % of Live Nation’s payments go back into Piedmont Park.  If they are not, then the city is at fault and this situation should be corrected!!!Report

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  14. Guest says:

    I’m curious, does MM or Live Nation receive any money from the City for the Festival??  I know that some festivals also receive incentives.  I hope that this is not the case here.  Live Nation is a Billion Dollar industry that should do more.  Ultimately it’s up to the City to ensure the Conservancy and Park is preserved.  One weekend concert shouldn’t disrupt the park for as long as it does.Report

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  15. DBChi says:

    I have several places within steps of the park and part of what makes it worth living here is that it is Atlanta’s version of Central Park. However instead of being happy that we are living in a vital thriving part of the city some people want to treat Piedmont Park like a private enclave. It is not private nor are the streets, it is wonderful public asset and hats off the the Park Conservancy for being a good shepherd. If one wants peace and quiet there is plenty of room north of the city. An bucolic oasis is not what the urban experience is consists of; it should at times be loud, crowded, and gritty…all major cities are.  
    The bands weren’t my cup of tea but its great to see young people enjoying the heart of Atlanta. It’s better than the generic ‘artists’ and food stands that seem to peddle their wares during half of the summer’s other festivals. 
    Can Livenation do better, absolutely, including doing things like coordinating the set up and clean up better. But contrary to the article they do contribute to the park and seem to work with the conservancy instead of against it.Report

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  16. JWK says:

    I see that the City clarification states that the funds from Music Midtown are the largest benefactor for Mayor Kasim Reed’s Centers of Hope youth program. The funds are not going to a dedicated city park fund or the Piedmont Park Conservancy. I think that is a complete clarification of Maria’s points in the article. Plus putting down floor planking on the field does not constitute care and upkeep by any stretch of the imagination.Report

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  17. Morningside resident says:

    This might be a fair comment if neighbors were complaining about every festival, but we’re just complaining about this one. Music Midtown is enormously disruptive to the whole area for a two-week period, and it appears to be a net cost to Piedmont Park (in that the festival doesn’t even offset lost rental income).Report

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  18. Morningside resident says:

    I read both links, and neither contradicts anything reported by Ms. Saporta. Money spent on preventing damage by the festival and remediating damage caused by the festival are not contributions to Piedmont Park.Report

    Reply

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