WILMINGTON — This week the City of Wilmington put out a request for proposals to manage the Hugh Morton Amphitheater, better known as Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.
The process, which is slated to award a contract early next year, is not the first time private management of the facility has come up. Last year, city emails showed discussions about allowing Live Nation to operate the amphitheater at a reduced cost in exchange for additional investments in the North Waterfront Park, although officials say that the plan was scrapped before it was formalized.
Wilmington seeks “professional management of the performance venue for all aspects of operations including concert promotion and scheduling, food and beverage service, ticketing, show production including marketing sales and sponsorships, and day-to-day maintenance and janitorial services,” according to the request for proposals (RFP), posted Monday.
The goal of the proposal is “to provide complete management and operation of the amphitheater while assuring no financial liability to the CIty of Wilmington and providing the City with a potential revenue stream for City’s general fund and parks and recreation programs on the occurrence of meeting certain financial targets.”
A management company would be responsible for:
- Event marketing
- Box office operations
- Programming and production
- Revenue reports (weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual)
- Concessions and catering
- Lighting and sound
- Janitorial and security services
- Coordination with police, fire, and EMS
The city would permit up to 40 private events annually; more would require permission from the City Manager. Additionally, the city would identify up to 10 civic events. Priority for events would continue to be given to Cape Fear Shakespeare Ltd., which produces shows in June and would be announced in April.
The city would continue to maintain Greenfield Lake Park and handle events outside the venue footprint.
Management issues and challenges
Any proposal is required to explain how the management company would handle a number of challenges and ongoing issues.
Those include “how capital improvements would be funded.” The amphitheater underwent a $1.2 million overhaul in 2008, using funds from the 2006 Parks Bond. Currently, city staff has requested a second phase of improvements, including three-phase power, additional seating, area lighting, and an additional concession facility. Some of those improvements, like improving the power supply, have already been completed, but others are still on the table, although funding has not been identified.
Another challenge is “potential noise impacts on surrounding businesses and residents.” While the city’s recently rewritten noise ordinance provides an exception for Hugh Morton between 7 a.m. and midnight, noise complaints and relationships with the amphitheaters neighbors will likely remain an issue.
The RFP also asks submissions from companies that promote concerts to explain “how the facility would be available to other promoters.” Multiple promoters often book shows for the same venue, although the RFP would appear to give priority to the management company.
[Disclosure: Many shows at Hugh Morton are currently promoted by Beau Gunn and 98.3 The Penguin, where Gunn is the general manager and which is owned by Local Voice Media, the parent company of Port City Daily. Live Nation also books shows at the amphitheater.]
Other issues will include managing food and beverage options and working with organizers for civic events.
Live Nation’s interest last year
Last summer, as it became increasingly clear that the North Waterfront Park and Live Nation venue in downtown Wilmington was overrunning cost estimates, city officials began to look for additional revenue or cost-saving measures.
The city ultimately chose to pursue two routes. One was a branding campaign to raise money from sponsorships, allowing private and corporate naming rights to everything from shrubs and benches and the venue itself. The city has yet to release details on how much funding it has generated from this campaign.
The other option was value-engineering, reducing some of the parks’ ‘aspirational’ facets and, more recently, rebidding parts of the construction in an attempt to bring in a lower bid.
In August of 2018, Director of Community Services Amy Beatty, who oversees both Hugh Morton and the future North Waterfront Park, wrote an interoffice memo detailing a plan 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.”
The deal would have helped entice an additional $2 million investment from Live Nation. Beatty apparently had several conversations with Live Nation Carolinas President Grant Lyman about it, and Lyman expressed interest, according to Beatty’s interoffice memo. Lyman also requested revenue records from food and beverage sales at Hugh Morton and received them over the summer.
Ultimately, the plan was tabled, with Beatty saying the conversation had not gone any further as of the early fall of 2018. Live Nation did continue to produce some shows at Hugh Morton.
Pre-submittal questions are due to the city by Monday, November 4, with answers promised by the end of that week, on Friday, November 8.
The proposals are due by November 19. Following that, city staff will schedule interviews, presumably during late November and December. According to the proposal, evaluation of the proposals will not be based on a bid (i.e. this will not be a ‘lowest bidder’ wins situation). Proposals will be evaluated in part on the business plan, experience, references, finances, and proposals ‘diversity plan.’
According to the RFP, an award to manage the Hugh Morton Amphitheater at Greenfield Lake is expected to be approved by City Council during one of its January meetings, either on January 7, 2020 or January 21, 2020.
You can read RFP for management of the Hugh Morton Amphitheater here:
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