Buffalo Place, which launched the successful and popular summer concert series that is now at the waterfront, has pulled out of the negotiations with Global Spectrum to continue managing the events, saying the two sides are too far apart to reach agreement.
The nonprofit downtown business improvement organization cited six areas in which its proposal differed significantly from that of Global Spectrum, the Philadelphia-based entertainment venue management firm selected by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to take over Canalside operations.
In particular, it said Global Spectrum doesn’t want to give up control over key aspects of the concert series, including the selection of performers and coordination of food and beverages. And it would not commit to a minimum payment to Buffalo Place to ensure the nonprofit organization would not lose money, or to a long-term contract.
“What Global Spectrum proposes leaves no meaningful role for Buffalo Place at Canalside,” Buffalo Place Chairman Keith Belanger wrote in an email Wednesday to Matt Hollander, regional vice president for Global Spectrum. “Moving forward under your terms would put us at considerable financial and reputational risk and, if we somehow were to make it work, you could boot us out next year.
“With that said, let me simply say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ ”
Instead, Belanger wrote, Buffalo Place will refocus on its core operations, such as landscaping and snow removal in the central business district, operating Rotary Rink at Fountain Plaza, producing the Downtown Country Market, providing safety escorts and working with the city on efforts to restore car traffic to Main Street, promote downtown housing and market the city.
“Buffalo Place won’t disappear. While our concert series is what many people think of when they think Buffalo Place, we still have plenty of other things we quietly do,” Belanger wrote in an email to The Buffalo News. “To ECHDC and Global Spectrum, we say ‘good luck’ and ‘don’t drop the ball.’ ”
Concert promoter Donny Kutzbach of Fun Time Presents, which has worked with Buffalo Place in the past and is already working on booking performers for this summer, said he could not comment yet on what might happen. But Hollander said Global Spectrum intends “to continue the relationship with Fun Time.”
“We really do want to build relationships with local businesses and organizations, and we recognize that these guys have a firm grasp on the music scene, and we want to work with them wherever we can,” Hollander said. “We were very interested in trying to build a partnership with Buffalo Place, but through our discussions, it became clear that what we needed to get was a little different. I respect their decision to choose to not move forward with the concerts with us.”
ECHDC officials did not respond to requests to comment.
Formed in 1982, Buffalo Place launched its concert series at Lafayette Square in 1989 before initiating a Canalside concert program in 2008 and then moving its Thursday concerts from the square to the waterfront in 2011. In all, 66 concerts have been held at Canalside, which Buffalo Place has also been managing since 2008 under a contract with ECHDC.
But bad weather and other circumstances led Buffalo Place to lose over $200,000 on the concerts the past two years, causing overall operating losses and erasing its reserves. So the organization’s leadership already wanted to make some changes to restore the series to profitability.
Late last year, ECHDC sought bids on three new contracts for management, operations and programming at Canalside, seeking to “raise the bar” in its effort to create a tourism destination at the waterfront. In a blow to Buffalo Place, it awarded all three contracts last month to Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast Spectacor.
Representatives of the two organizations met in January to try to hammer out an agreement in which Buffalo Place could continue to handle the concert series, as a subcontractor for Global Spectrum. Buffalo Place asked Global Spectrum to guarantee payment of at least $100,000 and offered to split any excess profits over that equally. It also sought a long-term commitment. And it wanted flexibility in scheduling shows, continued Buffalo Place branding, continued free Thursday concerts and no compromising on security.
But while Global Spectrum agreed to some terms, it rejected the minimum payment in favor of shared profits and offered only a one-year contract “to get to know each other, according to a Jan. 31 letter from Hollander. “We do not believe that your proposal represents the essence of a true partnership, with shared risk and shared reward, which is our goal,” he wrote.
It also insisted on a role in or control of concessions, security, scheduling and public access to the waterfront during performances. “Our interest here is in building a partnership that will endure for many years to come,” Hollander wrote. “But we need the flexibility and opportunity, as do you, to evaluate the success of the partnership and make decisions accordingly.”
That was too much for Buffalo Place. “I don’t see enough common ground to suggest that there is a basis for a continued dialogue aimed at arriving at a joint approach to a summer concert series,” Belanger wrote. “You want control. My organization is not in favor of cooperating and giving you that control concurrent with being exposed to the downside of the financial arrangement you propose.”
Belanger admitted that “part of me is disappointed” but said the decision was “not unexpected.” He also said Buffalo Place has no intention of restarting concerts at Lafayette Square, noting that the area has changed in the last few years, and a music series “just doesn’t fit there anymore.”
But he’s also ready to move on. “We have done a lot of good things to help get Canalside where it is,” he said. “Our job is done at Canalside.”