Your Cart
No products in the cart.

Rough Draft Atlanta
Hyperlocal news for metro Atlanta
Centennial Olympic Park has stopped hosting big annual music festivals due to the wear and tear on its park grounds.
For about a decade, park administrators actively sought and hosted music festivals such as Shaky Knees, Sweetwater 420 and One Musicfest, drawing tens of thousands of people at a time. But around the time of the pandemic, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which has overseen the park since it was built for the 1996 Olympics, had a change of heart.
Jennifer LeMaster, chief administrative officer for GWCC since 2016, said it costs between $2 million to $3 million a year to operate the 22-acre park. Costs include public safety, landscaping, maintenance and staffing. It’s open to the public year-round.
“The park is seen as the front door of the Congress Center,” LeMaster said. “It’s the entrance to the hospitality district and I believe the center of gravity for downtown Atlanta.”
In the years since the park opened, the Coca-Cola Museum relocated from Underground Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium, the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened around the perimeter. SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel opened nearby in 2013.
For its 28-year existence, the park has hosted a variety of galas, corporate functions, concerts and other ticketed events.
“The question comes down to: How often should the park function as a venue versus a park?” LeMaster said. “It’s an art, not a science.”
The GWCCA subsidized the park from its operating budget for the first 15 years. But in the early 2010s, management decided to aggressively pursue events and functions that would help the park pay for itself. And it did for a few years.
The park held eight to 10 big events a year. Among the largest: 2014′s ATLast festival featuring an Outkast reunion, multiple Sweetwater 420 festivals and Shaky Beats and Shaky Knees festivals.
By 2020, however, management decided the park was getting too beat up. Although festivals were required to re-seed after an event was over, big portions of the park had to be closed off until the grass recuperated. “It became a question of access,” LeMaster said. “And there was too much wear and tear.”
The last major music festival to be held at Centennial Olympic Park was Sweetwater 420 Fest in spring 2022, but that was merely to complete a contractual obligation because the 2020 concert had been canceled due to the pandemic. A smaller version of Sweetwater 420 Fest was held at the brewery last year, but will be hosted this April at the private entertainment district Pullman Yards in Kirkwood, which is larger than the brewery’s home base but smaller than Centennial Olympic Park.
Besides the park and the Georgia World Congree Center, the GWCCA oversees Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Savannah Convention Center. It also just opened a new 976-room Signia by Hilton Atlanta on its campus. An estimated 3.2 million people visited the entire Atlanta campus space during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2023.
“We have grown our revenues in other areas,” LeMaster said. “Business has expanded. We absorbed the operational overhead” of the park.
The park now holds smaller events quarterly such as a fireworks show July 4 weekend and will host concerts and events when the World Cup comes to town for a month in 2026.
LeMaster said state rules that potentially limit the ability of festivals with short-term leases in public parks to ban guns was not a factor in their strategic shift away from music festivals.
Music Midtown at Piedmont Park in 2022 was canceled in part due to a fear of legal challenges to a policy prohibiting weapons. Music Midtown returned to the park in 2023 without incident with weapons restrictions in place.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
You must be to post a comment.