Remember the Niagara Falls Holiday Market? The one I wrote disappointedly about in late November, and took a lot of flak about it from people who equate “honest criticism” with “negative naysaying”?
Despite an alleged budget of $900,000 (I challenge anyone to figure out where that money went); $450,000 of which came from the taxpayers of the City of Niagara Falls and the State of New York, the market ended $31,000 in the red.
The Niagara Gazette’s article doesn’t delve deep enough, and merely contains he said/he said quotes from Mayor Dyster and Councilmember Fruscione, who said, “[a]nybody we do business with in the future will pay us to do business, we won’t be paying them.” It states that the organizer was not to profit from organizing the event, but omits a lot of facts that are covered in the weekly Niagara Falls Reporter’s stories (number 1, number 2, number 3, an editorial, and number 4). For instance:
– There was a line-item of $114,000 for “salaries”, and the organizer won’t disclose to the city who received it.
– It cost $40,000 to stage an Aaron Neville concert that brought in a mere $9,000.
– The city council wants the market and its organizers to justify and account for its supposed costs of almost $800,000.
– Tony Walker was a prominently billed vendor, scheduled to take 10 huts. It never showed, but the organizer himself apparently opened and operated up to seven vending booths himself.
– The organizers used photos of other Christmas markets, ice rinks, and Christmas trees in order to promote the one at the Niagara Falls market – all of them were misleading at best.
– Numerous people claim to have been stiffed by the market organizers. (One of the vendors retained my professional services in early 2012, and was ultimately paid – others were not so lucky).
– The market claims that the ice rink cost $147,000, but the rink operator says the contract was for $99,000.
– Only about 370 people actually skated on the $100,000 rink, which saw gross receipts of $6,463.
– A BPO concert grossed about $7,500, but cost over $17,000 to stage.
– Elizabeth von Trapp grossed about $2,800, but cost about $3,500 to stage.
– The Canadian Tenors grossed about $9,300, but cost over $40,000.
– Organizers promised the city and state that over 80 vendors would participate; only 35 showed up.
– Promises were made that the event would generate $30,000 in sales tax for the city, but there’s scant evidence that all vendors were diligent about collecting sales tax, or of any bump in revenue. Likewise, there were promises of 300 part-time jobs, over $30,000 in parking revenue, and $3,000 in bed tax revenue – no proof exists that any of those promises were met.
– With respect to the Idaho developer, Mark Rivers, who organized the market, he reportedly operated 7 booths himself, and questions are being raised whether his staffing or inventory costs were subsidized by taxpayers.
– According to the Reporter, the market took in about $90,000 and spent about $767,000, with a net loss of over $670,000.
Based on the evidence, it would appear as if the market wasn’t exactly a rousing success. While it did bring people to an otherwise empty part of town during the cold winter months, it was a fiscal disaster and a complete amateur hour. People who went there may have had a good time, but to equate what happened on Falls Street with a traditional European-style Christmas market is foolish.
None of this would matter, of course, if it was just a budding entrepreneur who took a bath on a good idea that was poorly implemented. However, this particular entrepreneur used $450,000 from taxpayers in a very poor city and a cash-strapped state. That it was so vastly different in execution from what was promised in the inducement smacks of mismanagement at best, fraud at worst.
There’s no reason, however, why Niagara Falls shouldn’t try again in 2012. After all, it’s got $100,000 in sheds to use. But this is an event that can be put on either by USA Niagara or, better still, by the Niagara Falls business community or a non-profit organization. There’s no reason it should cost $800,000, and it could be made much more festive than what was there last year.