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If the rain gods are merciful next year, the agency that markets downtown Buffalo thinks it can rack up nearly $1 million in revenue by staging concerts, country markets, street fairs and other special events.

Buffalo Place's steady growth in earned income signals the agency's ongoing effort to rely less on grants and levies to finance its marketing efforts, officials said Wednesday. Ten years ago, the agency generated less than $192,000 in earned income. By 1995, revenue from special events and other marketing activities had more than doubled to $388,801.

Final figures for 2000 won't be known for a few months, but officials announced this week that the Thursday at the Square concert series generated about $845,000 in revenue, up 40 percent from a year earlier and up more than six-fold from concert revenues generated in 1992.

Directors at Buffalo Place Inc. unanimously approved a new budget Wednesday, a spending document that projects $800,000 in revenue from summer concerts

"We're probably being a bit optimistic, because we were very fortunate this year," said Buffalo Place Executive Director Michael T. Schmand. "We managed to dance around the rain gods this summer and staged all 15 of our Thursday concerts."

Schmand said even one rain-out would have caused a noticeable drop in revenues, noting that the agency would have still had to pay for bands and set-up costs, while losing revenue from beer and other concessions.

Buffalo Place treasurer Michael G. Baritot said earned income, most of which is generated by concerts and other special events, will account for 38 percent of the agency's budget next year. By comparison, earned income accounted for only 11 percent of the budget a decade ago and only 17 percent five years ago.

"This is a story of an agency
that is controlling its expenses while expanding its revenue base," said Baritot, who is a partner in the upstate New York office of KPMG, a global accounting and consulting firm.

The $3.2 million spending plan approved Wednesday includes no increase in the special charge that is levied on about 800 property owners along the 24-block transit mall corridor. The special charge assessment is expected to generate nearly $1.2 million in revenue. The city will contribute about $418,000, about half of which is earmarked for a park-and-ride shuttle that services downtown employees.

The budget is up about 3.1 percent over current spending, according to agency documents. Vice Chairman Anthony Colucci III said an additional 4 percent has been earmarked in the payroll budget for merit raises.

Agency officials also announced Wednesday that they have sent informational letters to the owners of about 70 downtown properties to seek input on its plan to expand the Buffalo Place boundaries.

Advocates have long argued that downtown is no longer just Main Street. They claim that widening the boundaries to include portions of Chippewa, West Tupper, Pearl, Franklin and several other streets would enhance the agency's ability to market and maintain the central business district.

In other business, the agency's security committee reported that crime along the pedestrian mall dropped by about 5 percent during the first six months of the year when compared with a similar period in 1999. Some have credited increased police presence and the Americorps Ranger Escort program for a continued decline in reported criminal incidents.

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