Sunday, August 14, 2022

Wilmington’s Riverfront Park attracts 125,000 event-goers downtown in its first months

 Counting Crows performs at Live Oak Bank Pavilion in September. (Port City Daily/Photo by Tom Dorgan, MoonFrog Media)

WILMINGTON ⁠— In its first five months open, just over 125,000 people were drawn downtown for various events at Riverfront Park. The City of Wilmington’s new flagship park, which has the ability to transform into a concert venue, held its grand opening on July 4.

In its inaugural year, 89,458 people were concertgoers at 22 shows, including three Azalea Festival performances. Another 25,583 attendees went to civic events held at the park, and 9,960 showed up at events for which the park was rented.

The grand total was just above the original projected attendance for the concert season of 80,000.

With a capacity for 7,200 people, the venue averaged 4,066 concertgoers per show; though multiple headliners sold out tickets, including Widespread Panic, Miranda Lambert and GRiZ.

Wilmington’s original city-owned outdoor concert venue, Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, can hold 1,200 people per event. This year it hosted 22,107 people between 22 Live Nation concerts and two civic events. That’s an average of around 900-person crowds. The boutique amphitheater generated $58,700 in revenue for the city, with $20,000 from fixed rent and $2 per ticket sold, a total of $38,700.

The success of Greenfield Lake Amphitheater was part of the reason the city pursued a music venue where Riverfront Park now exists. It once was a brownfield site the city purchased and pitched as a baseball field, but the idea was widely opposed in a 2012 referendum. During planning for a park on the land, residents made known Wilmington was more of a music city, asking for a performance venue even more than green space.

“Operationally, I was really pleased at how smooth the concert season went and how responsive the local Live Nation team was to City staff,” Amy Beatty, director of community services for the City of Wilmington, wrote in an email. “Of course, there were hiccups, but for the first season I don’t think it could have gone much better.”

READ MORE: Riverfront Park presented obstacles for people with disabilities in first concert season

Since July, the approximately $38-million park has generated $100,000 in fixed rent, which the city receives from Live Nation as a condition of its 10-year management agreement. The contract is $200,000 a year.

As part of the deal, Live Nation passes along $2 per ticket sold to the city. In 2021, it added up to $194,248. The venue generated $19,205 from event rentals, including The Carousel Center Beer and Wine Festival in October and November’s Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival.

The city accepted $150,000 from Live Nation as part of the management company’s naming rights agreement with Live Oak Bank Pavilion.

For the next decade, the pavilion will don the name of the Wilmington-headquartered bank in exchange for a $3-million sponsorship. The management agreement between the City of Wilmington and Live Nation conditions that half that revenue belongs to the city.

Beatty said the park has been utilized this fall and into the winter, thanks to Wilmington’s climate. She clarified that it is still not fully complete. Originally expected to open by the time Widespread Panic hit the stage in July, the West Gardens has remained a construction site these past several months. National supply chain shortages delayed the opening, and the city is officially cutting the ribbon on the gardens Friday.

The playground opened this summer only temporarily with mulch. It closed mid-November for the installation of a poured, rubberized surface and is scheduled to reopen by Christmas.

Beatty said the city will continue to keep the Riverwalk open during concerts, citing good behavior of those who caught the shows from outside the venue.

So far, Live Nation has announced four shows at the riverfront venue in 2022: Bon Iver on Apr. 12; Leon Bridges on May 17; HAIM on May 22; and Dispatch and O.A.R. on Sept. 3. Lake Street Dive’s 2021 show was postponed and a new date has yet to be announced.

The Azalea Festival announced three back-to-back shows during its April celebration: country music star Brantley Gilbert on Apr. 7; rock band REO Speedwagon on Apr. 8; and rap group Cypress Hill on Apr. 9.

Per its contract with the city, Live Nation is allowed to schedule up to 20 concerts each year, plus 10 civic events. It reached that maximum this past season on a condensed schedule, since the park didn’t open until July. Live Nation can request authorization from the city manager to add more dates.


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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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