BANGOR, Maine — Seasons Grille & Sports Lounge had its first full summer of operation in 2013, and the restaurant saw “minor to moderate” foot traffic from Waterfront Concerts, which is surprising, considering the venue is located just across the street, manager Tom Workman said.
Seasons decided to beef up its efforts this year to lure concertgoers across Main Street. They invited patrons to park in their lot as long as they went inside and spent $20 or more on drinks and food before the show, Workman said. They threw parties in the club in the basement featuring music from artists performing at that night’s event. It worked.
“This year, we’re seeing a huge increase in business on concert nights,” Workman said.
Several patrons ask to sit outside along a bustling Main Street on concert nights so they can listen to the music from afar or just people-watch, he added.
“The economic impact is huge,” Workman said.
Seasons isn’t the only business benefiting from the concerts. The influence of the Waterfront Concerts Series is growing, with more people coming from farther away to see bigger shows and spend more money in the area, according to an updated economic impact study from a University of Maine researcher.
UMaine economist Todd Gabe released a study in early 2013, which estimates the first three years of Waterfront Concerts, 2010-12, pumped more than $30 million into the local economy.
This week, he released an update that includes results from the 2013 season, which surpassed each previous year in terms of attendance, number of performances, impact on local businesses and people’s willingness to travel long distances to see a show.
Last season, there were 19 Waterfront Concert events, with Phish, Luke Bryan and Kenny Chesney drawing the biggest crowds. Those 19 shows had a total economic impact of nearly $17.5 million — more than half the total of the first three years combined, according to the study.
The dollar figures in the study were gleaned from Maine Revenue Services data, which includes information on taxable lodgings and restaurant spending figures.
The numbers back what local businesses are saying.
Peter Geaghan of Geaghan’s Restaurant and Pub said he’s used to walking into his business and recognizing most of the patrons’ faces.
But on concert nights, he sees people he doesn’t know — people from across not just the state but throughout New England and the Maritime Provinces.
It’s especially noticeable when a concert is scheduled on an off-night, like a Tuesday or Thursday, when the restaurant typically only attracts regulars.
“We’re seeing Friday sales on Tuesday nights,” Geaghan said, adding that the crowds have prompted him to increase staffing when he knows a big concert is coming.
Geaghan’s observations about strange faces in his restaurant are backed by other findings in Gabe’s study.
By looking at the ZIP codes attached to ticket sales information, Gabe gleaned where patrons were coming from. In the series’ 2010 debut year, just 2.5 percent of patrons came from more than four hours drive time away. That percentage has climbed to 20.5. The percentage of people traveling two or three hours also increased each year. The percentage of “locals” attending — or people who live less than two hours away — has been on a steady decline.
This doesn’t mean fewer locals are coming to shows; rather, as the number of patrons has increased, so has the share of those patrons who come from farther away, Gabe said. It also indicates that this higher percentage of people from several hours away are coming to Bangor to spend money when they might not otherwise.
In total, Waterfront Concerts drew more than 300,000 people to the venue between 2010-13, according to the study. Waterfront Concerts typically doesn’t release exact attendance figures for business and artist contractual reasons.
With more people coming “from away,” demand has been driven up for hotel space. When a big concert is in town, it’s not unusual for hotel space to fill up to the extent that people seek rooms in communities as far away as Ellsworth, city officials have said.
Five hotels have been built — or are in the process of being built — in Bangor city limits since 2006. The most recent ones are largely a response to Bangor’s growing entertainment scene, buoyed by concerts, Hollywood Casino and the Cross Insurance Center.
Doreen Salls, general manager of Courtyard Marriott on Sylvan Road, said these entertainment options have brought a “marked increase in demand for quality hotels in the area.” That’s a big part of the reason her employer is building another hotel, a TownePlace Suites, right next door to their current location.
Salls used the example of Dave Matthews Band. Two days after the June 6 concert was announced, most hotels in the market indicated online that they were booked or close to it. That may not be typical of every concert, she said, “but it shows you, with larger acts and names, the kind of immediate impact it can have on the community.”
Gabe’s research also found that money spent by patrons of the concerts in area hotels and restaurants is enough to support more than 260 jobs in the city in 2013, up from 240 the previous year.
The study doesn’t yet include data from the first half of 2014’s performances, as it is only halfway through the season.
Fewer concerts are scheduled for 2014, 15 rather than 19, but they trend toward performers that draw larger crowds — prime examples being Dave Matthews Band and several big-name country music acts, including Willie Nelson. Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray has said he expects attendance this season to compare to, if not exceed, last year’s.
“Here, you have an intellectual approach to what I think we all know is happening,” Gray said of the report. “I don’t really care about the numbers. What I care about is when a business owner comes to me and says, ‘I don’t really know if I’d be here if it weren’t for your concerts.’”
Gabe’s journal article on the economic effects of the first three years of the concerts has been vetted through the peer review process and is scheduled to be published in the Review of Regional Studies.
Gabe said those interested in seeing a copy of his study may email him at Todd.Gabe@maine.edu.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.