By Lance Williams, The Tennessean
A new study shows that the Bonnaroo music festival has a $51 million economic impact, but a plan by festival organizers to open up the 650-acre farm to new events could give the site a greater role in Middle Tennessee's economy.
Over the past several years, the festival's partnership - which purchased the Manchester, Tenn., farm in 2006 - has steadily invested in infrastructure at the site, including 12 on-site wells, fuel tank access and permanent power. Now, the partners say they are ready to start bringing additional events to Coffee County.
"We're in active discussions with a lot of groups," said festival partner Rick Farman. "We're geared up to hold a number of different events all across the entertainment industry."
For instance, the site will play host July 27 to the Great American Mud Run, which is expected to draw more than 5,000 participants.
Farman said other types of multiday music festivals could be added to the mix, including gospel or bluegrass shows. The new events would be sometime between May and October each year - the prime season for an outdoor venue.
Coffee County Mayor David Pennington said he is excited about the expansion plans.
"I'm really curious about where this could go," Pennington said. "A lot more people know about Manchester and Coffee County than ever knew about us before."
Pennington said adding more events to the calendar could boost local employment because it could keep the site's part-time employees working throughout the summer. Already, workers are preparing the Bonnaroo site two months before the show, and they spend one month afterward doing cleanup and tear-down.
"All that could really have a huge impact," Pennington said.
Help from Nashville
Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said his group has been working closely with the festival organizers to better coordinate efforts.
For one, both groups are now working together to make sure that Bonnaroo and the CMA Music Festival do not fall on the same weekend.
"I think the site has the potential to (host) really big and unique events," said Spyridon, citing events such as the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. "Because of the lack of hotel rooms, they have to be really strategic about the events they do. But if they do need hotel rooms, we can definitely help them with that."
For instance, Paul McCartney's appearance at Bonnaroo this year is expected to boost one-day ticket sales to older fans who might not be typically drawn to the festival environment.
"Paul McCartney's fans are going to want a bed, a shower and air conditioning," Spyridon said. He said several Nashville hotels will be running shuttle buses for those fans who want to see the show.
Bonnaroo has developed a reputation as one of the nation's top outdoor music festivals, and the economic impact study helps quantify the festival's impact.
According to the study by Greyhill Advisors, the festival has a $51.1 million impact, including $36 million in direct visitor spending.
In 2012, the festival resulted in more than $580,000 in taxes paid to Coffee County and more than $2.9 million to the state of Tennessee - mainly through sales tax.
The average Bonnaroo attendee spends $86 per day during the festival, and nearly three-quarters of that spending happens outside the festival grounds, in Coffee County and elsewhere regionally.
"Traffic just doesn't pop up here in Coffee County out of nowhere. They have to drive through somewhere to get here, and that means they are probably spending money there, too," Mayor Pennington said.
For comparison, the economic impact of the CMA Music Festival was about $31 million in 2012. While a majority of the spending during the CMA festival is spent on lodging, the percentages are much different for Bonnaroo.
Most of the spending for the outdoor festival is on gasoline for travel to the shows and groceries for use while at campsites at Bonnaroo.
The latest study also shows the significant growth of the festival over the years. In the last economic impact study on Bonnaroo, done in 2005, the total economic impact was less than half what it is today.
Still, it has a long way to go to compare to the standard-bearer for today's music festival scene, Lollapalooza.
The Chicago-based festival has an annual economic impact of $120 million; it draws more than 300,000 visitors to Chicago - more than three times the attendance of Bonnaroo.
Given the local economic impact, Farman said he couldn't rule out the possibility of the festival eventually asking for some kind of economic incentives from government officials.
"We have an amazing relationship with the community," Farman said. "It really would only be in the context of things we thought we could do to help bring in more business."
Pennington did not rule out the possibility of government officials being open to the idea.
"They have never really asked us for anything," Pennington said. "But whatever we could do to help Bonnaroo grow, we'd be more than willing to take a look."