Philadelphia company picked to manage Canalside - The Buffalo News
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Philadelphia company picked to manage Canalside

The free Thursday concert series on the waterfront will continue this summer, but it may have a new producer.

Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast Spectacor, was chosen Monday by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to operate, maintain and program Canalside for the next three years.

The Philadelphia-based company – one of the nation’s largest in venue management – replaces Buffalo Place, the downtown improvement organization that launched the popular summertime concert series in 1986 in Lafayette Square, before moving it to the waterfront in 2011.

However, at a meeting after the vote, both organizations discussed the possibility of Buffalo Place continuing the programming of Thursday at Canalside.

“We had a productive lunch meeting, and we are going to work quickly and closely to see if we, together, can continue the success at Canalside. They seem sincere about wanting to work with us,” said Michael Schmand, Buffalo Place’s executive director.

Waterfront agency officials said continuing the concert series itself is not in jeopardy.

“The concerts at Canalside will absolutely continue,” board member Sam Hoyt said.

Buffalo Place lost more than $200,000 producing the concert series in the past two years, and Keith Belanger, Buffalo Place’s chairman, who expressed disappointment about the decision, said the not-for-profit may decide to walk away with a sense that its mission is now completed.

“Our board stuck with the concert series because we deemed it a key contributor to changing the image of downtown. It was an investment we were willing to make,” Belanger said. “But whether the concerts – at least concerts produced by Buffalo Place – continue remains to be seen. Perhaps our job is done.”

Buffalo Place has also produced “Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor” summertime concerts since 1998.

Belanger expressed frustration with scheduling conflicts – and the lack of a permanent stage – that made the concert series more expensive to produce.

“Every time you present an act there, you’ve got $30,000 or $40,000 invested before you’ve sold your first beer,” he said.

Robert Gioia, the waterfront agency’s chairman, said Global Spectrum’s selection represents an opportunity for Canalside to go to the “next level.”

“We wanted to get a brand standard, and really create a destination that this community can be very proud about,” Gioia said. “There is no question that there is going to be disappointment, but we are growing up, and we need to move to the next level, and we know Global Spectrum will be able to take us to that.” Global Spectrum’s appeal, he said, included a track record in developing revenue-generating corporate sponsorships and a wide marketing reach, as well as dedicated management experience in all of the areas Canalside was seeking help in.

At the same time, Gioia said he was hopeful Global Spectrum and Buffalo Place will be able to work together.

“We would prefer to continue with Buffalo Place involved. They’ve been a great partner,” Gioia said. Three separate public bids were issued to manage Canalside, broken into operations and maintenance, programming and events management, and canal/ice operations and maintenance. Only Global Spectrum and Buffalo Place bid on all three, which was the waterfront agency’s preference; Block by Block, with experience on the Baltimore waterfront as well as destinations in other cities, expressed interest in only two of the areas.

Canalside is expected to expand into the former Memorial Auditorium footprint later in the year, when a large ice-skating rink three times the size of the one in Rockefeller Plaza is expected to open. That would increase the acreage covered in the contract from 8.3 acres last year to 13.5 acres. The cost to maintain the ice rinks was pegged at $625,000.

The $1.7 million contract includes an expectation that $1.2 million in revenue will come from the ice rink, food and beverage and other sales. Global Spectrum will be paid an additional $270,000 to cover the next three months as the contract transitions from a calendar to a fiscal year.

Kaitlin Chmura, a project manager, said Global Spectrum will provide a general manager on-site, along with a director of operations and security manager. Capital improvements will also be getting more attention, Hoyt said.

“One of the first assignments we’re going to have Global Spectum take on is a thorough inventory of what work needs to be done, every aspect of the site,” he said.

Both Hoyt and Mayor Byron W. Brown said the agency and the city were developing a memorandum of understanding on who is to be responsible for capital and other improvements – from maintaining the terra cotta blocks to providing cobblestones – that until now have fallen through the cracks.

The prospect of greater attention to site repairs and a management presence was greeted enthusiastically by community advocate Richard L. Taczkowski.

“I’m delighted. These measures are things I’ve been calling for for at least three years now, and there’s no question they will make this a more quality, first-class destination and experience for both visitors and locals alike.”

Locally, Global Spectrum operates and programs Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls, and the three-block area of Old Falls Street. The 2012 annual report showed an operating loss of $243,063, but Christopher Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara Development Corp., a state agency, said the financial picture had improved due to the company’s involvement.

“We’re generating thousands of people on Falls Street for the first time in a generation. We’re getting people used to coming back, and I’ve been really pleased with their work on taking something that didn’t exist, and figuring out a way to make it work,” Schoepflin said.

Global Spectrum will contract with Arts Services Initiative of Western New York to develop programming, a function the group performed last year along the Buffalo River, including at RiverFest Park and Silo City.

“I’m really happy we are able to be a part of Canalside,” said Randall Kramer, president of Arts Services Initiative. “Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation doesn’t have an expert on culture on their staff, or someone in the field. We are adding capacity to them, and in return they are adding resources to us that gets distributed throughout the cultural community.”

Matthew Hollander, Global Spectrum’s regional vice president, said operating a waterfront venue would be unique for the company, which operates 120 sites, most of which are convention and exhibition centers, as well as stadiums, performing arts centers and ice facilities.

All of the job hires will be local, he said. “We are going to be recruiting in the local market, and developing our workforce from within the assets of Buffalo.”

It remains to be seen whether that will include Buffalo Place.

“For the community’s sake, let’s hope the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.-Global Spectrum partnership raises the bar,” Belanger said.


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