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Waterfront agency approves contract for Canalside operator with promise of more oversight

The Philadelphia company that runs Canalside can expect closer scrutiny of its spending.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. on Monday approved paying $2.4 million to Global Spectrum during the second year of the company’s three-year contract.

The approval comes just months after Global Spectrum drew a sharp rebuke from Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz over $860,000 in unanticipated expenses nine months into the company’s first year.

“The lesson we learned was we need to keep close tabs and monitor (what’s going on),” said Robert Gioia, the agency’s chairman.

The $860,000 represented a 50 percent increase over the $1.7 million the waterfront agency had budgeted for the first year.

The company will receive $2.4 million for the 2015-16 season, which begins April 1. The amount is slightly less than the $2.5 million spent during the first year.

An independent audit requested by Polancarz will begin at the end of the first year.

Informal audits by Empire State Development, along with new monitoring and reporting requirements, led officials to conclude things are on the right track, Gioia said.

“When we first learned of the overage, we really wanted to make sure what we paid for, we in fact, did get, and the audits and internal reviews confirmed that,” he said.

Gioia said the agency now monitors costs on a monthly basis and forecasts a month ahead to make sure the company stays within budget.

Resodding the lawn after concerts, the last-minute addition of World Cup soccer events and unexpected costs for the new Ice at Canalside rink contributed to the extra costs, he said.

“It’s a learning curve for us, and while Global Spectrum has done this before, there are new people hired and there was a learning curve there, as well,” Gioia said.

He said he expects the agency to recoup about $200,000 of the unexpected $860,000 increase.

Ice at Canalside surpassed expectations with a paid attendance of over 60,000 people, helping to make the past year Canalside’s most successful yet, said Gioia and Thomas Dee, the agency’s president.

Poloncarz, through a spokesman, said he had not yet reviewed Global Spectrum’s contract or the board’s approval, so he declined to comment.

Poloncarz and Mayor Byron W. Brown are members of the waterfront agency’s board by virtue of their elected positions, but they do not vote.

The mayor lauded Canalside’s progress, and said he was generally pleased with the Global Spectrum contract.

“I wanted to see even greater focus on minority- and women-owned business participation, and the participation of businesses in the City of Buffalo, and the staff and board said that was an issue they shared,” Brown said.