Venue management, local leaders discuss Artpark's future at public forum
by Joshua Maloni
Artpark has one goal in mind for the 2012 summer season: smaller crowds watching bigger musical acts.
"We're shooting for a smaller number that is manageable," said Chris Brown, chairman of the Artpark & Co. board of directors. At a public forum held Tuesday at the Village of Lewiston Red Brick School, he told a crowd of between 150 and 200 that venue management can't handle crowds exceeding 25,000 or 30,000.
Brown said Artpark & Co. is in the "development stages" of a $4 million master plan that calls for a reconfigured outdoor amphitheatre that will provide for a safer and more comfortable concert atmosphere for park patrons.
The proposal also calls for Artpark's concert area to be surrounded by a fence. Concertgoers will likely have to obtain a ticket. Whether or not there is a cost affixed to that is uncertain. But, Brown said, the result will be smaller audiences.
"We're trying to aim for 10,000 to 12,000 for a concert," Brown said.
He told residents "we understand the impact" of this past summer's concerts, which were highlighted by back-to-back weeks of 30,000 in attendance (Lynyrd Skynyrd on July 26 and ZZ Top on Aug. 2). "We don't want to repeat that."
Though the crowd size might change, Brown said Artpark & Co.'s goal is to continue providing top-name acts. The venue has received Buffalo Place Magazine's "Best Outdoor Venue" award four consecutive years. Last summer's headliners included Peter Frampton, Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick and Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
Assemblyman John Ceretto called the public meeting following several complaints from residents in the wake of Artpark's record-breaking shows, and concerns expressed by the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees about the effect of 30,000 people descending on the one-square-mile village in an evening.
"We're all here for the betterment of Artpark," Ceretto said. "We want to do better next year."
"We want to co-exist; we want to make our experience better," Brown said.
"We understand what you're saying. It's loud and clear," he added.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Ceretto was joined in the front of the gym by Brown, Artpark President George Osborne, local police representatives, and Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano, who began the meeting by saying, "The success of Artpark has brought on some problems for this little village."
Police Commissioner Al Soluri said all Lewiston police officers were on active duty for "Tuesday in the Park" nights. LPD-issued tickets were up versus last summer, and Soluri said the total manpower cost to taxpayers was $60,000.
"It's quite a burden to cover Lewiston and Artpark (at the same time)," he said.
Osborne and Brown both said Artpark & Co. cannot afford the cost of children's programming and ticketed shows such as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra without the beer, parking and sponsor monies derived from the venue's rock concerts, "Tuesday in the Park," in particular.
Still, Artpark & Co. management expressed a willingness to compromise on rock concert crowd sizes, suggesting the fence-and-ticket model as a means to that end.
"Artpark & Company has been very open ... and considerate to our wants and needs," Collesano said.
"We work very hard to try and answer every complaint," Osborne noted.
While the village and park management are working together to find a solution, Lewiston residents remain divided.
"The idea of 30,000 people is reckless at best," said Lewiston resident Frank Felicetti.
"Containment is key," resident and merchant Bob Giannetti said. "You need to contain the noise."
He added Lewiston wouldn't accept Artpark's noise levels from any other entity. Giannetti said Artpark & Co.'s productions fall short of past years ("Nothing today lines up to its original glory.") and booking rock acts lacks courage and imagination.
Town resident Brian Peunic told Giannetti he couldn't have it both ways. He said Artpark needs rock concerts to subsidize the BPO and similar productions.
"You have to have something to fund it," he said.
Giannetti said his store only attracts Artpark customers when they've paid to attend a show. Village resident and merchant Jamie Symmonds said the opposite.
"I do very well on Tuesday nights," she said, noting customers stop in, buy new clothes and wear them to a free concert. Or, when they don't buy something immediately, they often come back and purchase items at a later date.
Symmonds said Artpark management is quick to find common ground with those issuing a complaint.
"I've never seen two people more willing to compromise," than Osborne and Director of Marketing and Development Maureen Kellick, she said.
Symmonds also asked about the noise and congested streets generated from festivals and Hennepin Park Gazebo concerts.
"You shouldn't just pick on Artpark," she said.
Soluri said Artpark management is on the right track.
"Nobody wants Artpark to fail," he said. "I think what we're after is a peaceful coexistence."
Collesano said his board would continue to meet with Artpark & Co. in preparation for the 2012 summer season. Ceretto also told residents they are welcome to contact him with questions or concerns.