The Board of Mayor and Aldermen will discuss the Bonnaroo annexation among other items during a special call work session March 23 in person at City Hall.
Beside a Planning Commission meeting and a few threads on the topic during a budget and finance meeting, this will be the first time the subject has been brought before the full board.
Where we are
According to state law, a resident of the county must approach the city in order to be annexed, which Bonnaroo, or rather New Era Farms, the LLC that owns the property known as The Farm, has done.
Basically, the city then will hear from all departments to see if they can provide service to the property and then a public hearing is held for the public to weigh in before the resolution votes are held.
On the table is potential revenue for the city ranging from $800,000-$1.2 million in sales taxes, in addition to the economic impact that the festival has locally and across the state.
On the other hand, Bonnaroo is requesting “infrastructure improvements” that include widening of New Bushy Branch Road a three lane and a new bridge over Wolf Creek. This $6.2 million project is anticipated to be covered by a 50% matching TDOT grant and a grant that should cover from 80-100% the cost of the bridge.
The city will apply for an Interstate Connector Road grant and request Federal Bridge Rehabilitation from the state of Tennessee.
As a resident of the city, Bonnaroo would be entitled to the same services water, sewer, fire and police that any other resident would have. Bonnaroo has always reimbursed, and as expressed verbal intentions to continue to cover all of the costs associated with space/equipment rental, and all costs associated with police, fire, medical, traffic and public safety personnel that the county and city provide.
One additional point of discussion is a state law that reverts sales tax revenues back to the county for 15 years following an annexation. This amount would be based on last year’s revenue, a minimal sum due to Bonnaroo 2020 being canceled.
This could very likely generate a lawsuit by the county.
Alderman Roxanne Patton said during a Budget Meeting in March, “Bonnaroo didn’t happen because it couldn’t happen. They could not have it. I think that’s going to factor into this.”
Alderman Bill Nickels added, “There are a lot of people who think this is a very opportunistic grab and I don’t think it will stand.”
Other aldermen and a Bonnaroo attorney has expressed the opinion that while it is a matter that needs to be settled in court, the final verdict will fall on the side of the city. The law’s the law, they suggest.
How we got here
Talk of an annexation has been floated around for years. But these vague discussions started became more serious when the longtime contract the festival had with the county was set to expire June 30, 2017. The old 2006 contract included a $3 fee for every Bonnaroo ticket sold and a $30,000 flat fee, for about $250,000 annually, according to the old contract that was applied to county’s general fund and county officials could utilize the money for countywide projects.
Negotiations with the county for a new contact stalled.
During the Nov. 14, 2017 full County Commission Meeting, an attorney for Bonnaroo Sam Reed, joined by Bonnaroo spokesman, AC Entertainment’s vice president for community relations Jeff Cuellar, suggested a fee on each ticket — $1 per each $100 of ticket price. This money was to be earmarked for specifically for infrastructure improvements.
At the meeting, Reed called for a “dedicated funding stream that is payed for by our guests so that it doesn’t come out of the pockets of the citizens of Coffee County…to help pay for infrastructure upgrades.”
At that meeting, Bonnaroo discussed the New Bushy Branch Road Project, and the county Commission approved the application of the TDOT grants.
Bonnaroo in 2017 requested the widened road citing at the time a price of $2.5 million to come from the county.
Cuellar called the Wolf Creek Bridge and the New Bush Branch Road dangerous. He also called the temporary I-24 Exit 112 unsafe. TDOT has decided to close that exit as a toll booth which will put and enormous effect on local traffic, whether the property is annexed or not. At the 2017, Bonnaroo anticipated keeping the exit open.
Bonnaroo had assured the county that the project costs would be covered by the ticket fee.
Since Bonnaroo was bought by Live Nation in 2015 the push has been for more events and upgrades for the property. A partnership between Bonnaroo owners, Coffee County, the Manchester Water Department (MWD) and the federal government via the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant gave water access to the property. The ARC grant was $500,000, which would be matched with $650,000 contributed by the owners of Bonnaroo, $100,000 funded by the City of Manchester and $150,000 funded by Coffee County, for a total of $1.4 million to be invested in the project.
The Exit 111 festival in October of 2019 was the first of the smaller events (not counting a mud run and warrior dash not held by Bonnaroo) on the property. The announcement came shortly after Exit 111 that it was to be a solo event. Last week, a series of concerts were announced for the property for May 2021. This is the first of its type to be held there and the first post pandemic event to be held.
In 2017, Cuellar noted that holding festivals was a highly competitive venture. This year’s May event that will fall coincidentally around the same time as the city will vote on the annex could provide a litmus test of the post pandemic concert market.
No action can be taken at a work session.