BANGOR – Unless an economist or nonprofit think tank conducts a study, the impact of the first Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series is measured in anecdotes.
Several area restaurateurs, hoteliers and retailers have said the series, which wrapped up this past weekend, was overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s put us on the map. People are talking about Bangor in a way they haven’t for a long time,” said Kerrie Tripp of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can’t buy this kind of publicity.”
“You can’t measure the economic impact, but you know it’s there,” added John Porter, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. “And it doesn’t benefit just Bangor. Commerce doesn’t begin and end at the city line.”
The million-dollar question is: Will the series become a mainstay on Bangor’s revitalized waterfront or will the promoters move to a more populated market?
Local concert promoter Alex Gray of New England Concerts LLC and Bob Duteau of Live Nation, the well-known company backing the concerts, told city councilors last week that they are interested in returning in 2011 and beyond. Gray said he envisioned hosting 12 to 15 shows on the Bangor Waterfront next year beginning in the spring and continuing into the fall.
Councilors also expressed strong interest and directed city staff to draw up a contract for use of the waterfront for 2011.
“The ball is in their court,” Gray said this week. “They know what we want. But the sooner we have an agreement with the city, the better. Right now, we’re losing shows [for 2011].”
Interim City Manager Bob Farrar said Wednesday that staff is still working on ironing out details, but he seemed optimistic that a deal was close.
Gray declined to talk about how much money New England Concerts or Live Nation made or lost in 2010. Duteau did admit to councilors last week that Live Nation overpaid some acts to ensure a quality lineup for the first year.
Gray also declined to release final ticket sales, but he said the seven concerts that made up the 2010 series met or exceeded expectations.
“All of a sudden, this is a hot market — we don’t want someone else to benefit from the fruits of our labor,” he said, adding that it’s Live Nation’s policy not to divulge ticket sales. “But our success wasn’t predicated on timing or anything. To have the year we had was a luck of the draw.”
Although Gray declined to release ticket information, the Bangor Daily News was able to compile some rough numbers.
As host, the city of Bangor received $1 per ticket for use of the waterfront. Through Sunday’s Smackfest concert, Finance Director Debbie Cyr said the city received $41,568. That means 41,568 tickets were sold for seven concerts — Celtic Women, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels, Tim McGraw, Jason Mraz, Alan Jackson , Miranda Lambert and Smackfest — or an average of almost 6,000 tickets per concert.
Those numbers suggest initial reports of ticket sales were somewhat inflated, but Cyr said the city did not receive any money for complimentary tickets.
The city received another 25 cents per ticket for turf maintenance, totaling $10,414. Cyr said other services provided by the city, including public works staff time and police patrols, were billed to Live Nation directly. That total was estimated at $44,000 through Sunday, she said, and those bills have been paid. Staff members and councilors declined to say whether next year’s contract with Live Nation would look any different from the contract that recently expired.
Ancillary economic benefits
City Council Chairman Richard Stone said New England Concerts and Live Nation have more than lived up to their end of the bargain, and the city is better off for it.
“If you bring people to town and the city doesn’t have to reach into its pockets, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the benefits,” Stone said. “People have to eat; they have to fill up cars; sometimes they shop. That’s all money that goes into our local economy.”
Tom Palmer, who manages a handful of area hotels, agreed that the concerts had a positive economic impact. The Fireside Inn on Main Street was full each concert night, and guests even migrated to the Black Bear Inn in Orono on the weekends.
“Bangor can be a very popular place if there are events,” Palmer said. “I think this showed that people are willing to pay the price for first-class entertainment.”
John Osborne, general manager of Hollywood Slots, said he and the casino’s parent company, Penn National Gaming Inc., were more than happy to offer sponsoring.
“In order for the concert series to be successful, Live Nation was looking for some local support,” Osborne said. “[Penn National] has a strong commitment to being involved in local communities, and this was a great way to showcase Bangor.”
Since Hollywood Slots’ name was mentioned every time the concert series was mentioned, Osborne said the sponsorship has more than paid for itself.
“The hotel was typically sold out on the nights of the events. There was increased activity in restaurants and more people in the casino as well,” he said.
Gray did share data with councilors that showed where concert-goers were coming from. His numbers suggested that as many as 60 percent of concert attendees came from more than 30 minutes away. About 5 percent came from out of state.
“What that shows is that if you put on a good event, there is a market for people to come here,” said Porter, the Chamber president. “If you give them a reason, they will get in the car and drive here.”
Will partnership continue?
Economics aside, the concert series — and the American Folk Festival — have help put Bangor on the map culturally.
Last week, Duteau said the Bangor Waterfront has become almost a must-play venue in the music industry.
“I got a call from [country music superstar] Toby Keith’s agent saying, ‘Tell me about the waterfront,’” he said.
Although they praised the waterfront locale, Gray and Duteau both said that ideally the concert series should have a permanent setting. Costs associated with renting a stage and tearing down and setting up equipment for each show are prohibitive, they said.
There had been some discussion about leaving the giant stage in place during the winter, although it had already been taken down as of Thursday.
Duteau said that, in his opinion, the series would be most successful if the venue turned into a partially covered amphitheater, similar to the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston or the Comcast Center, formerly the Tweeter Center and Great Woods, just south of Boston.
Who would pay for such a facility is a question that remains up in the air.
According to Porter, Gray recently joined the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, a sign that he’s serious about wanting to plant roots in the region. Live Nation is also promoting shows away from the waterfront, including a Dec. 10 concert at the Bangor Auditorium featuring country star Sara Evans.
“Having him and Live Nation involved is going to be a real asset, and it could have a big impact on the arena conversation as well,” Porter said, referring to the city plans to replace the aging Bangor Auditorium with a new 8,000 seat-capacity arena.
The concert’s series lead local partner — Hollywood Slots — is hoping for future concerts, but general manager Osborne acknowledged financial realities.
“As a business, we have certain profit hurdles when investing in any form of advertising and promotion,” he said. “But as long as the concerts are successful, it benefits us.”
This much is certain: Many Bangor-area leaders are hopeful that there will be a 2011 Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series. They just want a decision soon.
Tripp said she hopes Convention and Visitors Bureau members are able to piggyback on any future concerts.
“The more time we have, the more we can collaborate,” she said.