WILMINGTON — A city official is denying there are plans to transfer operation of the Hugh Morton Amphitheater to Live Nation, despite a detailed interoffice memo outlining a proposal to give the entertainment company control of the venue at Greenfield Lake in exchange for $2 million.
In late August, Amy Beatty, the city’s director of community services, told Port City Daily that the city had not had a formal conversation with Live Nation about operating the Hugh Morton Amphitheater, also known as the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Beatty said she “did not know the level or degree of interest in the amphitheater by Live Nation.”
But according to an interoffice memo written by Beatty and delivered to the city’s top staff, Beatty personally offered the operation of Hugh Morton Amphitheater to Live Nation Carolinas President Grant Lyman.
According to the memo, the offer stemmed from the city’s need to raise more capital for the North Waterfront Park venue.
After signing a 10-year contract with the city, Live Nation made additional requests beyond the original designs of the venue — asking for expanded bathroom capacity and a larger back-of-house facility, used to accommodate artists, office space, and storage. According to Beatty, the expanded facilities would reduce production costs for Live Nation, as well as reducing the city’s need to use “unsightly” temporary storage and portable toilets for events.
The cost of the expanded facilities is expected to cost approximately $2 million.
In the memo, Beatty wrote:
“After receiving the cost estimate, I asked Live Nation if they would consider additional capital investment beyond the initial $2,000,000 in the executed contract. The response was positive. Live Nation is interested in contributing an additional $2,000,000 in the project after updating their market analysis. However, in order to meet a return on investment in the period they need, they believe it will be necessary to reduce expenses or identify additional revenue streams.”
In essence, in exchange for $2 million, Live Nation needed something from the city. And, while at one point a contract-extension was on the table, Beatty apparently came up with a different way to make things work with Live Nation.
As Beatty explained in the memo:
“Given the short and long term benefits of an additional $2,000,000 in private investment, I began to think about the additional revenue streams for Live Nation and developed the idea of Live Nation operating the Hugh Morton Amphitheater. I ask the President of Live Nations Carolinas [sic] if they would be interested and he said yes.”
While Beatty noted that an official proposal has not yet been received, she also outlines her vision for a deal in the memo.
“My thought is to offer the operation of the amphitheater to Live Nation at a reduced rental rate for a term until they have met their [return on investment] at North Waterfront Park and then raise the rent to market rate,” Beatty wrote.
Beatty concludes the memo by enumerating the benefits of having Live Nation run the amphitheater:
- Owning a $4 million asset (i.e. the Waterfront Park venue with an expanded back of house)
- Live Nation’s operation of the Greenfield Lake venue will free up a recreational supervisor to work at the waterfront venue
- Association with the Live Nation brand will increase exposure for both the amphitheater and Wilmington
As a final note, Beatty also addressed a concern, frequently voiced in comments on Port City Daily’s late-August article, that Live Nation would damage the particular atmosphere of the amphitheater.
Apparently vouching for Live Nation’s intentions, Beatty wrote:
“Common among the amphitheater’s attendees and promoters is a fondness for the atmosphere and culture. It is a major factor in receiving return visits from artists. This atmosphere has been cultivated through the amphitheater’s intimate design, location and setting and should always be protected. Live Nation recognizes and supports this principle.”
City official says plan was ‘tabled’ in early summer
Beatty denied there was any active plan to allow Live Nation to operate the Hugh Morton amphitheater at Greenfield Lake. She described the memo as a response to “published media articles,” saying, “I wanted to explain to [Wilmington city] council what had happened.”
Beatty said she had only “one conversation” with Live Nation Carolinas President Grant Lyman in late June or early July and that the project had not gone any further
“I have no received no written proposal, we have received no verbal proposal, there has been zero progression of these talks since the beginning of the summer,” Beatty said.
However, according to city emails, Lyman wrote Beatty on July 31, saying he was responding to a text. A week later, on August 6, Lyman emailed again to “follow up on our conversations last week about GLA.” In the second email, Lyman asked for food and beverage sales records from the Hugh Morton Amphitheater.
At Beatty’s request, city staff assembled these figures. Beatty reviewed them and, after asking at least once for additional data, sent them to Lyman. During the third week of August, Beatty also tapped the city’s finance director, Jennifer Maready, to make sure there was no debt on the venue. City Spokesperson Malissa Talbert later confirmed this was not a precursor to selling the venue, but was a “government requirement before allowing a private company to use public space.”
Beatty repeatedly said there had been no conversation about the expanded back-of-house with the design team or Live Nation since the beginning of summer. When asked why her memo, updated most recently on September 5, made no mention of the plan being dropped, Beatty said “that is on a separate track from the rest of the park that won’t be included in our upcoming discussions and presentations to [city] council.”
When asked why Beatty told Port City Daily in August there had been no discussions about Live Nation taking over Hugh Morton, Beatty said the idea had been “completed tabled” earlier in the year.
“There was an idea brought up at the beginning of the summer, and since then we have set it aside … there has been no further progression, either verbally or in writing, about if that would occur or what it would look like,” Beatty said.
Asked if Beatty’s outline of a proposal to give Live Nation a discounted rate until they recouped their investment counted as an example of “what that would look like,” Beatty said no.
“I was explaining to council, that was my concept,” Beatty said. “I’m sorry that I’m not doing a good job of explaining it to you. But developing a concept, and asking if there’s interest in it, and then further cultivating that concept into a concrete idea, and then furthermore a concrete recommendation to city council, you’re talking a lot – a lot – of work that takes place between that first question and development of an idea into something that would ever be recommended by staff to city council.”
Beatty confirmed that, prior to her memo being sent, city staff including City Manager Sterling Cheatham were not aware of her “one conversation” with Grant Lyman about Hugh Morton Amphitheater issue.
Beatty said she is currently only concerned with the current construction plans, which do not include the expanded facilities and has recently been occupied with the recovery effort from Hurricane Florence.
You can read Beatty’s complete original memo to city staff below.