Public / private partnership unites to provide funding for critical infrastructure improvements for Bonnaroo

BY Dr. Bridget Jones
Project Consultant
jones-bridget consulting group

Since 2002, Manchester and Coffee County have been the home of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, a four-day event held on more than 700 acres of farmland featuring a diverse array of music styles and international performers.

Each year the event, located 60 miles southeast of Nashville, attracts thousands of people to Coffee County and southern Middle Tennessee to hear jam bands, dance D.J.’s, marquee pop stars, and enjoy artisans providing art, film, dance, and other unique cultural experiences.

For the music world, outdoor festivals are a big business that is only getting bigger. Once a marginal part of the music scene in North America, festivals now play an increasingly central role in the business. In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named Bonnaroo the “Best Music Festival” in the U.S. which brought more national focus after this prestigious designation.

In April 2015, the New York Times reported that Live Nation Entertainment acquired a controlling interest in the festival and Great Stage Park, joining Bonnaroo festival owners in their operations.

The article also deemed Bonnaroo one of the country’s premier music festivals and reported that the four-day event drew more than 80,000 fans to the rural Tennessee location.
Bonnaroo co-founders stated in the article that the partnership with Live Nation would empower them to enhance the festival and preserve the integrity of the event that has been thoughtfully built over the last 14 year period.

For most big festival operators, rapid expansion is critical to build a network for booking talent and making sponsorship deals. Manchester and Coffee County leaders have worked closely with Bonnaroo/Live Nation Entertainment to develop crucial infrastructure to the Great Stage Park.
Their public/private partnership has positioned the community and Bonnaroo to make systematic infrastructure improvements in a relatively short timeframe to address growth needs.

An additional benefit of the infrastructure improvements has been the support for the growth of the nearby industrial parks also benefiting from the improvements where hundreds of new jobs have been created.

In 2015, South Central Tennessee Development District staff, along with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) and Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) joined the local public/private partnership to provide funding for necessary water system improvements to supply nearby industrial park and residential customers and the event at current attendance levels.

The need to maintain water service to local consumers during the period of festival consumption factored into project plans and specifications as a critical factor. The infrastructure investments would also be adequate to support the future growth of the festival.

In 2015, the city of Manchester was awarded $175,000 in ARC funding and matched the grant with $175,000 in local funding to construct a water booster station necessary to supply adequate amounts of water to industrial park consumers and the event.

In 2016, partners including ARC, Coffee County, the city of Manchester, and Bonnaroo/Live Nation Entertainment invested $1.4 million in combined funding to upgrade the capacity of existing waterlines to better serve local industrial customers and the festival.

Also in the fall of 2016, Bonnaroo/Live Nation invested an additional $650,000 to replace rows of port-a-potties with “state-of-the-art” restroom facilities that opened for the 2017 festival, much to the happiness of attendees.