Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Free Is Not Always Free

For some reason, I still see people angrily lamenting the loss of the "free" concerts we used to have downtown. I went to a few of them when they first started and they were nice. But I also know that plenty of downtown businesses had issues with the concerts, and many businesses had to hire extra personnel for security reasons. But that is something people would expect with a sudden influx of people to our downtown area.

The two biggest problems with the "free" concerts were the venue and the cost. It did not take long for residents to complain about the noise downtown, and my understanding is that the complaints really escalated after a while. We all love free stuff, but the people who have to put up with the loud music downtown also get to have their say.

After a couple of years, the venue moved to the parking lot where Cornerstone CFCU Arena now stands. That location was doomed from the start when the heavens opened up on the first concert and made the whole thing a mess. But as people do when it comes to free stuff, everyone marched forward and the rest of the season went really well. But after another summer of citizen complaints, it was time for the city to revisit the whole idea.

Now let's talk about the money. I am not going to talk about things I am not familiar with, so if anyone has real information (not made up stuff) that can correct what I am about to say, then please offer it. The city itself made very little money, if any, from those concerts. The city had to absorb the security costs, and the city had to deal with much of the clean-up when the concerts ended each night. I keep saying that the city got very little money from this because I am not sure where the parking money went, but I am assuming it went to the property owners and not the city.

I saw one person suggest "Well, why doesn't the city charge admission to cover costs?" That one is easy; because that is not what the contract allowed. The city can only do what the contracts signed with the promoter allowed. The promoter got the sponsor money to pay the acts and pay for part of the staging, and the city itself got almost nothing.

The businesses that lined the parking lot where the concerts were held did great business. I would even dare to suggest that a couple of the businesses in that area were a little opportunistic when it came to what they charged for bottles of water and such. I remember wondering why I would pay that much for a bottle of water as I watched customer after customer shell out the cash. But, hey, to each his own.

The concerts may have worked if they had been done at Outwater Park, but the businesses downtown found that idea to be counter-productive when it came to profits. So the city had no choice but to nix that idea the moment it came up. The shame of it is that putting concerts in Outwater Park would have made the whole thing a real family event. There is plenty of room in the park, soft grass, and lots of parking. I know because I used to go there every Fourth of July.

There may have been other reasons for not having the concerts in Outwater Park. The biggest being the logistics of powering such an event. Once again, I can understand that being a problem. But for the sake of having a successful event, I am sure something could have been done. Once again, if you have better information on this, please share it.

So, the reality is that the city was going broke from the concerts, and now lots of people refuse to believe that. I don't know why people refuse to believe that, but they do. When you take a look at the costs the city incurred with only the hope of recouping those costs being some sort of increase in tax revenue from local businesses, it becomes evident that the city was always going to lose big time on those wonderful "free" concerts.

Is there a way of bringing concerts back to downtown that doesn't break the bank? It doesn't matter because too many people were complaining about the noise of the concerts, and no one seems keen on moving them to Outwater Park.

The lesson here is that free is not always free. Sure, we all had a great time at the concerts, but those concerts were costing the city money it did not have. When the city needed a financial bailout, the idea of "free" concerts went out the window.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident who enjoyed the "free" concerts, but suspected there was a real cost to them. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at