LOCKPORT – Mayor Michael W. Tucker is hoping to have an announcement by February of a new Friday night concert series in the City of Lockport that, unlike the former series, won’t be a cost item in the city budget.
“The new series won’t cost the city a nickel,” Tucker said last week. “It’s possible the city will get a stipend for the use of the parking lot.”
Subsidies for the summer concert series were cut out of the 2014 budget. Tucker, the Common Council and promoter Kathy Paradowski agreed it was inappropriate for the city to be funding the shows at the same time it was laying off employees.
The Council passed a budget with 16 layoffs, although a retirement in the Fire Department subsequently reduced that number by one.
“We had had several conversations about the budget for Lockport. We were aware there were some budget problems. We knew in good conscience we couldn’t pay money for a concert series, i.e., the stage rental, while there were people facing potential layoff,” Paradowski said. “We decided months ago we would not do the concert series, at least this coming year, if that turned out to be the case. We are not upset. We understand.”
“I do think these are important events. It adds to our quality of life. We made a big investment in that thing. I think it’s paid off for us. I hate to just totally discard that. I’d rather take that money and keep an employee or two,” Tucker said.
“I really like Mike Tucker. I think he’s a good guy, and we’ve had a good relationship all these years,” said Paradowski, the veteran promoter who booked Lockport’s Friday night shows for six years.
But she said she doesn’t think it’s possible to make ends meet without the city picking up some of the expenses.
“He wants somebody to do the concerts for free. Thank you to our current government, there’s just not a lot of money out there for people to do free stuff anymore,” Paradowski said. “I do believe he will have a hard time finding a promoter who knows what they’re doing. … It’s not as easy as it looks, and it’s not free. I think he will be hard-pressed to find someone to do them for free effectively.”
During her tenure as the Lockport promoter, the city paid $8,800 per concert to rent the stage and also provided security through overtime for police and firefighters.
Much of the cost was picked up through sponsorships, especially the title sponsorship, which was always a Canadian beer: Molson for four years and Labatt for two.
However, it appears the free admission days will be over, too. Tucker said he expects the new promoter, whom he would not identify, “will probably charge $5.”
Tucker said the response to the news of the removal of the concert series from the budget was sadness in some quarters, although he agreed the concerts had their critics.
One of the most prominent was former Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green, who came within 25 votes of upsetting Tucker in the 2011 Republican mayoral primary. Although the concert costs weren’t her main issue, Green was a consistent critic of the cost of the events.
And those costs were substantial. There were 50 concerts during the six seasons of Paradowski’s tenure, meaning stage rental alone cost the city $440,000. Police and fire overtime for the six seasons totaled $244,414. Thus, the total cost to taxpayers of 50 concerts over six years was $684,414.
Tucker remains convinced that the money the city spent was worth it.
“Anytime you put 10,000 (people) in the middle of your business district, I think it puts Lockport on the map,” the mayor said. “I think it gave us a great deal of momentum. Friday nights, Lockport was the place to be. If you went out on Transit at 11 at night, you saw a solid two lines of cars heading out of the city for a good 20 or 25 minutes. You’d see cars from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Canada. Most of them were staying here at hotels.”
Residents enjoyed the shows, too, Tucker said. “They could walk down here and see a good event,” he said. “You see these concerts popping up all over the place. I think municipalities see the benefit of it.”
Lockport’s overtime tab for the first year, 2008, was just over $25,000, a figure that rose above the $33,000 mark in 2009 and leaped to $45,000 in 2010.
“The first two years, we had the sheriffs on the horses,” Tucker said, referring to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Division. “We also had the (sheriff’s) auxiliaries for the first year.”
Those services were no longer available by 2010, which was the same year the series expanded from eight shows to nine, further increasing costs.
Overtime costs topped the $42,000 mark in 2011 but jumped above $55,000 in 2012. This year, the number of concerts was reduced. The city intended eight, but there was one rainout, and the cost for the seven shows was more than $43,000 in overtime.
The number of officers assigned varied based on the weather forecast and the city’s assessment of what kind of crowd, both in size and temperament, that the headliner was likely to draw.
“If the weather was going to be hot, we put on more paramedics because of heat exhaustion, the parking lot being crowded,” Tucker said, adding that the decisions were made in weekly meetings with the police and fire chiefs.
The shows were held in the Ulrich City Centre “courtyard” – really a parking lot – for the first five years. This year, the series shifted about a block north, to a municipal parking lot at Elm and Chestnut streets. That may be the venue for the new 2014 series.
“Going back to City Centre isn’t off the table, either. I have to talk to the Sinatras (who own the business spaces around the courtyard). We are the owners of that parking lot, but it’s (booked by) mutual consent.”
Although the new series may only have six concerts, “It has the potential to be as big as what we had,” Tucker said.
Across Chestnut Street from the city parking lot, the city’s new ice arena is to be under construction next summer; it has a September target for opening.
Tucker said that although the proximity of the project to the concert venue could be a problem. “I don’t think it’s an insurmountable one.”
Tucker and Paradowski had a disagreement over programming, too.
The mayor said, “I’ve always had a desire to have the series be a classic rock series. She was trying to get a concert that was attractive to 25-to-40-year-olds.”
Paradowski said, “It wasn’t really a disagreement. It was more his taste in music. Our goals were different. He enjoys classic rock. Our thought process is, we’re about trying to make some revenue and pay for the shows. The demographic 25-to-40 works better for us in being able to pay our bills.”
Her reason for skewing the bands younger in recent seasons was simple: Young people buy more beer, and beer sales were paying the bands.
She said she spent as much as $65,000 on a headliner several times, although she wouldn’t name names. The lowest-priced headliner she booked in six years in Lockport cost her $18,000.
“Nobody can ever obtain enough sponsor money to pay for the shows outright. You look to your vending to offset those costs. Unfortunately, with the DWI laws and the economy, you cannot currently bank on people drinking enough or spending enough money on beverages or food to offset the cost of the bands,” Paradowski said. “That was pretty much where we were in Lockport, as was Buffalo Place in Buffalo. We thought what would help was to change the demographic a little bit. Every study shows they spend more money than the older crowd.”
The series had moved to Lockport from North Tonawanda, and she said for the first couple of years, in terms of profitability, “We did OK.”
“Everybody gets paid but you,” Paradowski said. “The promoter gets paid last. If there’s no money left, there’s no money left. … We are not a not-for-profit corporation. We could not effectively make money in the last few years.”
“The new series will be bigger and better,” Tucker said. “We had a great run here with Kathy Paradowski and the Labatt’s and Molson Canal Concert Series. We got to the point where our concerts could use some freshening up. We’re getting a fresh start with some new people. It won’t cost the city a nickel. It’s a win-win-win all the way around.”
“There certainly aren’t that many of us around,” Paradowski said, “and not that many willing to lose our own money.”