MegaFest taking year off, may not come back to Atlanta

Bishop T.D. Jakes is putting his popular religious gathering, MegaFest, on hold for next year and says the event may not return to Atlanta the next time it's held.

That means Atlanta will lose one of its biggest religious events and lucrative conventions, which brought 500,000 people to the city at its height.

The decision, announced Tuesday, was based on surveys of those who attended the four-day event, said Derrick Williams, a spokesman for Jakes' Dallas mega-church, the Potter's House. Attendees found travel and lodging costs burdensome. At least 70 percent of the MegaFest's visitors came from outside Atlanta, Williams said.

"When you're the mother of a couple of kids, it's not something that you can do on an annual basis," said Williams, who manages MegaFest. "We want to be sensitive to the needs of our delegates."

Potter's House officials said crowds had decreased. MegaFest drew at least 500,000 in 2004, its first year in Atlanta; 100,000 the following year; and another 100,000 this past summer, according to the church.

But the Georgia World Congress Center Authority said MegaFest only drew about 80,000 this year.

Williams said Jakes' decision had nothing to do with declining attendance figures.

"Absolutely not," Williams said. "It's definitely not losing its appeal."

MegaFest had an estimated economic impact of $94 million _ which includes estimates of money visitors spent on lodging, transportation and food, according to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. The event generated $3.9 million in sales tax revenue.

Lauren Jarrell, spokeswoman for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the group has been talking to MegaFest officials about bringing the event back to the city in 2008.

"We still have them as tentative for '08, and that's what we are working on with them," Jarrell said.

The event, attended mainly by black parishioners, also brought in celebrities such as actor Will Smith, singer Aretha Franklin and former NFL player Deion Sanders.

But fans said MegaFest's appeal had faded.

Serena Hinnant, a homemaker from Tyrone, said attending MegaFest was like experiencing a spiritual sugar high. One felt a rush after hearing sermons but went home with the same problems they arrived with. Also, the peddling of books, tapes and products tainted the event, she said.

"Once you've done it, you kind of get the same things over and over again," Hinnant said.

Shayne Lee, a Tulane University sociologist who wrote "T.D. Jakes: America's New Preacher," an analysis of Jakes' ministry, said he is not surprised Jakes is putting MegaFest on hold, saying Jakes has always reworked his ministry.

"He's going to take a year off to retool himself and find some new way to reinvent himself," Lee said.

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