Niagara Gazette

May 8, 2012

Holiday market report released

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS — The income sheet shows a net loss but the promoter of last year's Niagara Holiday Market suggests in his final report that the event "achieved its principal goals" by "activating a normally dormant" downtown, creating a family friendly atmosphere and drawing "generally affirmative publicity" to Niagara Falls.

A copy of the Niagara Holiday Market Stakeholders Report obtained by the Gazette on Monday shows the 37-day event posting a net loss of $31,765.18, according to a gross income statement filed for the period ending Jan. 1. The gross income statement shows operating income of $750,656.88 versus event expenses totaling $782,422.06.
 
Another section of the document suggests the final account balance will show a small surplus once a few final adjustments are made. According to the section, the HSBC checking account balance for the event had $4,334 in it as of April 25, but a final invoice for $32,951 owed to the Buffalo News for advertising left the total project running at a $31,765 deficit. In the report, the developer suggests the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp. paid the final invoice, but there is one check currently outstanding for $1,657 and a correcting error for expenses paid out of the Old Falls Street bank account in error totaling $1,494.
 
Once those amounts are clear, the developer says the market will have $1,181 remaining in its overall balance.
 
"There was a shortfall in the initial income/expense but, the stakeholders (not the city) stepped in to resolve (it)," Rivers said.
 
Finances aside, Rivers' report suggests the event brought "activity, commerce and holiday spirit" to the downtown area despite what the report describes as a tight timeframe for putting it all together.
 
"Being a first-year and unproven event that was executed during an extraordinarily tight timeframe (in reality about 90 days), the outcome netted positive for Old Falls Street, USA corridor and the overall Niagara Falls community," the report reads.
 
The market was supported with $225,000 from both the city and USA Niagara. Rivers, who promoted the event through his firm, Brix and Co., said in the report that market partners brought in-kind sponsorships in the form of free advertising, remote broadcasts, promotional events, hospitality credits and similar offerings totaling $110,000. Private sponsorships from the likes of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Wegmans and Mount St. Mary's Hospital brought in another $199,025, according to the report.
 
Rivers reported a total of 30 vendor booths were constructed for the market at a total cost of $103,280.35. The units were built by Depew contractors Cortese Brothers Construction.
 
Merchant booths are among the biggest expenses listed on the balance sheet. Other higher-end costs include: advertising/marketing ($103,720.25); concert entertainment ($113,220.78); outdoor ice rink ($148,106.44) and salaries ($108,677.39).
 
The developer notes that "no funds" from the market, including those from the city or the state, were paid to Brix and Co., Rivers or any affiliate that was "not a direct reimbursement for specific expenses that were budgeted, documented and/or verified."
 
The accounts were overseen by Global Spectrum, the company hired by the state to manage events on Old Falls Street, under a memorandum of understanding with the city that placed the company in the position of "escrow supervisor" for the event. The report indicates that Global Spectrum oversaw financial aspects of the public funds put forth to launch the event. It also maintains that the market balance sheet and gross income statement were created and audited by Global Spectrum and the accounting firm Freed Maxick of Buffalo. It also notes that Global performed "several financial tests" from its corporate division as well as through Freed Maxick.
 
The report says a total of 13 evaluations were received from participating vendors, most of them "generally positive," noting that many did point out ways that future markets could be improved. Among the recommended improvements were heaters and a more consistent electricity source for the booths and better overall planning and communication.
 
The report acknowledges several free events that were both promoted and held on Old Falls Street during the 37 days between the day after Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. They included Santa's Workshop, ice sculpture, beer and wine garden, the tournament of song featuring area high school choirs and the Taste of the Season, a two-day event featuring food tastings and guest chefs sponsored by Wegmans.
 
It also notes several events that were originally considered for inclusion but were not held or promoted due to lack of financing and timing, including a winter wonderland, train show, winter sport expo and Polar Playhouse.
 
A total of four concerts were held, featuring the Canadian Tenors, Aaron Neville, Elisabeth Von Trap and the Buffalo Philharmonic. The report suggests there was no profit earned from the concerts, "nor were these events intended to draw a profit in the planning of the market." The report describes the concerts as not performing well and representing a "large expense of the overall market."
 
"The concerts were designed to bring awareness to the event, provide a unique holiday experience, generate foot traffic and elevate the stature of downtown Niagara Falls as a venue for world-class entertainment," the report reads.
 
No official attendance numbers were reported as there was no single point of entry or admission fee for the market. A total of 3,191 tickets were sold for the four concerts, according to the report. Another 1,845 appeared for the Taste of the Season. An autograph session featuring Buffalo Sabre great Gilbert Perrault attracted 720 visitors. Overall attendance was estimated at about 75,000 guests, including more than 20,000 during the opening weekend.
 
Rivers reported solid stakeholder feedback from area hotels and restaurants, including the Hard Rock Cafe, TGI Fridays, the Sheraton at the Falls, Red Coach Inn, Legends Bar and Grill, the Quality Inn, the Giacomo Hotel and Wine on Third.
 
"Financial information wasn't shared with Global Spectrum in regards to their individual operations, but all feedback was positive and businesses indicated that they would welcome the Niagara Holiday Market back in the future," the report notes.
 
It is unclear what the future holds for the Niagara Holiday Market although an announcement made Monday by City Council Chairman Sam Fruscione about summer and winter plans for the vending booths suggests Rivers and his company will not be returning.
 
Fruscione said he was disappointed in the return on the city's investment in the project and in the contents of the final report from Rivers' company. He said he is especially concerned about some of the bottom line figures contained in the document.
 
"What I saw in the report — to me — wasn't really what I was expecting," Fruscione said.