Made in America, an annual music festival founded by Jay-Z and produced by Live Nation, may be forced to leave its home on the streets of Philadelphia as of 2019.
The office of mayor Jim Kenney told reporters on Tuesday that the festival's signature location in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was causing problems for the city. Jay-Z and other festival organizers have fired back, saying that the event's site is being moved without discussion, and that the mayor's office made its plans public without first informing the festival.
Since Made in America's founding in 2012, the Labor Day weekend festival has taken place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — an unusually urban setting for a music festival featuring major headline acts. In an interview before the festival's inaugural edition, the rapper and entrepreneur told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "It will be alive and electric, right in the middle of the city. You know, a lot of those festivals are on the outskirts of the city so you don't feel the heartbeat of the city."
The lineup for this year's event, which will take place Sept. 1 and 2, is scheduled to include Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill, Diplo and Janelle Monáe.
Festival organizers say that they only learned of the planned move, to a yet-to-be-determined site in 2019 and beyond, on Tuesday, when a local news site, Billy Penn, reported on the city's plans, citing unnamed city sources.
Later on Tuesday, Sarah Reyes, the deputy communications director for the mayor's office, confirmed to the Philadelphia Inquirer that 2018 "is the last year MIA will be held on the Parkway," adding, "When the festival first started, it was intended to provide a unique attraction to the city on the otherwise quiet Labor Day weekend. Over the years, tourism has grown overall, and the need for an event of this scale at this location may no longer be necessary."
Omar Al-Joulani, senior vice president of touring for Live Nation, told the Inquirer on Tuesday that the organizers had no idea of the city's plans to move the event — and that the festival's location on the parkway, in a popular area of a large American city, forms a fundamental part of the event's identity. "I had no indication, my partners and Roc Nation [the entertainment company founded by Jay-Z] had no indication, no request for a face-to-face meeting," Al-Joulani told the paper. "They broke up with us in the press ... By saying that they're not going to accept us back on the Parkway, they are saying that Made in America as we know it is over."
On Wednesday, Jay-Z published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, writing: "We are disappointed that the mayor of the city of Philadelphia would evict us from the heart of the city, through a media outlet, without a sit-down meeting, notice, dialogue, or proper communication. It signifies zero appreciation for what Made In America has built alongside the phenomenal citizens of this city. In fact, this administration immediately greeted us with a legal letter trying to stop the 2018 event ... How does an administration merely discard an event that generates millions in income and employs the city's people as if we are disposable now that we have served our purpose?"
While Jay-Z did not overtly threaten to take the festival out of Philadelphia altogether, he ended his op-ed by saying, "We will discuss our options internally and handle accordingly."
At a news conference on Wednesday, Kenney asserted that events held on the parkway are overwhelming the city. According to the Inquirer, the Philadelphia mayor stated, "We had some operational difficulties on the Parkway because of how long it takes to kind of set up and take down."
At that news conference, Kenney also intimated that the festival organizers should have already known that a move was likely, saying that the city had noted that information within the back-and forth of an "RFP," or request for proposal, submitted by the festival. "Since they [Roc Nation] responded to the RFP and had no complaints," the paper quotes Kenney as saying, "We thought it was OK to look around for some other prominent sites in the city where we could do it. We are in conversations with the right people now."
The relationship between Made in America and the city of Philadelphia was begun by Kenney's predecessor, Michael Nutter. A preliminary economic impact estimate widely touted by Nutter claimed that the inaugural festival event brought in at least $10 million to the city economy, with total city tax revenues of $223,000.
In his Inquirer op-ed, Jay-Z claims that since the festival's founding, "Made in America, one of the only minority-owned festivals, has had a positive $102.8 million economic impact to Philadelphia, and the festival has paid $3.4 million in rent to the city. Made in America employs more than 1,000 Philadelphians each day and 85 percent of our partners are Philadelphia-based companies ... Since its inception, Made in America has donated $2.9 million to the United Way of Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey."
On Thursday, Reyes declined to respond to NPR's questions, but offered a brief statement: "The City of Philadelphia supports the Made in America festival and is greatly appreciative of all that it has done for Philadelphia. We are committed to its continued success and thank them for their partnership. We hope to be able to resolve what has been an unfortunate misunderstanding. We are working with Roc Nation and Live Nation to resolve this issue and we are committed to continuing our partnership with the Made in America festival."