by Joshua Maloni
For months, rumors of impending ticketed outdoor concerts at Artpark have circulated around Lewiston. That chitchat now seems to be more than idol gossip.
"For many years, we have been desirous of having the ability to be flexible with our amphitheater series so as to enable paid admission for various performances while still offering free shows," Artpark & Co. board Chairman Chris Brown wrote late Tuesday in a letter to the Sentinel. "This has eluded us because the amphitheater is an open area with no practical means of ticketing patrons to help offset the cost of the great acts we book each season. Its present design also makes it difficult to control the number of patrons at the events. We have also wanted to improve the patron experience by upgrading various health and safety issues and making access to concession areas easier. The first phase of our amphitheater improvement project will help accomplish these goals immediately."
Artpark & Co. is poised to move forward with the first phase of its $4 million remodel master plan, which would ultimately shift the outdoor amphitheater's stage location while providing a safer, more comfortable layout for concertgoers.
"Our plans call for a fencing system and slight reconfiguration of the basic layout so that we can move toward a paid admission model for shows that demand the same by virtue of their popularity. This will allow us to limit the capacity for each event to sizes we know are manageable, and will allow for a more enjoyable patron experience while maintaining the high level of performances we have become known for at Artpark," Brown wrote.
Artpark & Co. President George Osborne said outdoor show ticketing is "one of many options that we're considering. It has been discussed."
The popular opinion around Lewiston was that the free "Tuesday in the Park" concert series would be modified as a result of negative feedback generated from back-to-back weeks of attendance numbers in the 30,000-range (Lynyrd Skynyrd on July 26 and ZZ Top on Aug. 2). The Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees - Mayor Terry Collesano, in particular - voiced concerns throughout the summer on the impact of such large crowds on traffic, infrastructure and aesthetics (noise levels, pedestrians walking across neighborhood yards, adjacent environmental projects).
"It was overrun, really," Collesano said following the Skynyrd show. "We just cannot handle that amount of traffic in this little village." He added, "If you talk to the restaurants, each and every one will tell you they did fantastic. The people were orderly. But, the village just cannot handle that amount of traffic."
Osborne said ticketing might be relegated to certain top-tier shows. He mentioned Buffalo Place's revised "Thursday at the Square" model as an example. The venue offered a mix of free concerts at Lafayette Square and paid shows at the Buffalo wharf. One of the ticketed events was The Tragically Hip, a band Artpark tried to land.
"We might've been able to have that concert ... if we could've controlled the setup," Osborne said.
He estimates Buffalo Place can accommodate about 13,000 people at its "Rocks the Harbor" events. A fenced-off Artpark would offer less than that amount, but those in attendance would have a view of the stage.
Osborne said Artpark & Co. has begun discussions with Tickets.com. Logistically, the venue could be fenced off at the VIP parking lot, at the security checkpoint halfway up the brick road, and on top of the hill by the visitor center. Patrons would have two main entrances to use, where they would hand ticket takers a one-time-use stub. Artpark could use pop-up tents to sell tickets at the entryways. Concertgoers also could purchase tickets ahead of time.
A ticket price or price schedule is yet to be determined.
Collesano said an ideal Artpark attendance number is between 10,000 and 15,000.
Osborne said part of the problem with the Skynyrd and ZZ Top concerts was the number of people trying to get into the park after it was at capacity and subsequently closed. The influx of stragglers to what he called the biggest free shows in Western New York in a decade added to an already congested atmosphere.
"It made a lot of people unhappy," Osborne said.
"We probably could never do a show like that for free again," he noted.
As reported here last week, Assemblyman John Ceretto is hosting an open meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, to discuss the size of Artpark's concerts.
"Artpark is a terrific venue, which brings tens of thousands of visitors on a weekly basis to Lewiston every year to enjoy the summer concert series," Ceretto said. "While the series has been a smashing success, we must be diligent in finding ways to improve the experience for local village residents.
"In an effort to ensure the future success of the Artpark summer concert series, I am hosting a public forum in order to receive helpful feedback from local residents on what can and should be done to make these events safer and more manageable for concert-goers and Lewiston residents."
The meeting will take place at the Village of Lewiston Red Brick Municipal Building, 145 N. Fourth St. Brown is expected to be in attendance. Collesano said trustees and other local elected leaders would participate, too.
Click here to download Brown's letter to the Sentinel