By Michael J. Billoni
Born on St. Patrick's Day 1989 to John and Patricia, Corey McGowan has lived his entire life on Grand Island. A graduate of Huth Road Elementary, Grand Island High School and Buffalo State College, he left a career in business to follow his passion as a promoter and entrepreneur through Corey McGowan Productions.
Creating and executing large-scale public promotions is a risky and sometimes lonely business. That's why McGowan will often drive into Veterans Park on Bedell Road and park in front of baseball diamond No. 1 - the John P. McGowan Field, named after his father - and just meditate.
Corey and his older brother, Andrew, a former powerhouse baseball and hockey player for the Vikings, who now resides on the Island with his wife, Katie, and their family, were fortunate to have parents who encouraged them and who played active roles in their lives.
His dad worked at Goodyear Chemical in Niagara Falls and was a member of the group that founded the Grand Island Little League. His mom, his most loyal supporter and volunteer at his many events throughout the year, was a second- and third-grade teacher at Huth Road Elementary for 30 years. Over the years, she has taught more than 600 Island children.
"My father was a genuine, honest, hard-working and very humble guy, which are the traits I try to model every day of my life," McGowan said during a wide-ranging interview at Tim Hortons on Grand Island Blvd. "He taught me that the relationships you create in life are the most important things you can do. I saw this in him over the 30 happy years of marriage he had with my mom. I also saw it in the respect he received from anybody he saw in public."
"It would not matter where we were; my father would always know someone and they always seemed to pick up a conversation where the last one ended," McGowan said as his voice lowered and tears formed in his eyes. "That was a trait of my father that I truly want to emulate. My father gave me every opportunity in the world and, along with my mother, they always allowed me to pursue my dreams.
"While I am still young and learning more and more each day, I know my faults when I make them and I try to grow from them as best I can. Each day, I strive to be as good of a man as my father was, and each day I try to do my best to carry on his legacy - especially here in the town he loved."
Corey McGowan (Submitted)
McGowan's dad died of lung cancer in 2011. Two years later, he began the John P. McGowan Memorial Concert for a Cure at Canalside on Buffalo's waterfront to pay respect to his father's memory - and to those who continue to be affected by cancer.
"The idea was to support the Roswell Park Cancer Institute where my dad was a patient," McGowan said. "He respected and appreciated their care so much, and being able to give back to them as a thank you was what he really wanted to do."
McGowan partnered with the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation in 2013 and 2014 and has since begun seeking numerous cancer causes to support. This year's all-day event on Aug. 13 will feature several musical acts and food from local restaurants. The first year featured international touring artist The Guess Who.
One can easily say McGowan was a born promoter who began leading the charge for community projects when he was 11. Back then, he was spearheading neighborhood petitions to have bridges built over tiny creeks that prevented him from being able to ride his bicycle to Veterans Park. During his high school and college years, he organized controlled hotel parties to provide musical entertainment for his friends while making a few bucks for school.
McGowan credited Cheryl Chamberlain and current Grand Island Deputy Supervisor Jim Sharpe with being early mentors. Chamberlain saw uniqueness in him and, during his junior year of high school, she encouraged him to take steps to really make the most of himself. Those lessons led him to become a youth ambassador of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, where he reconnected with Sharpe, an old family friend and long-time chamber member.
"Jim took me under his wing and we began incorporating an idea I had for a local battle of the bands competition in correlation with the annual Kid Biz at Town Commons," McGowan recalled.
The event involved local teenage bands competing to become the best band of the afternoon. This lasted for two years.
As a business major at Buffalo State, Corey worked at the Keller Insurance Group in Niagara Falls, where company owners and Grand Island residents Tony Brindisi and Bob Fahning gave him hands-on experience in business, and the ability to learn from two well-respected men in their field.
"They are the pinnacle of respect, knowledge and trust in today's business world," McGowan said with conviction.
Upon graduating from college in 2012, he began at Citigroup as a pricing analyst, feeding traders daily stock price variances, working with individuals in New York City, London, Belfast and Singapore. After 18 months, he returned to the Island for a position as the events director for Byblos Niagara Resort & Spa on East River Road.
While working for these companies, the promoter remained active in his hometown by starting the Grand Island Mural program in the summer of 2012. The project was completed that fall through funds from the first Taste of Grand Island. Today, it stands strong with its historical montage of Grand Island facing Baseline Road - as does the Taste of Grand Island, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary as a Corey McGowan Productions event on Sept. 20.
On weekend nights during the summer, one will find McGowan at Town Commons in the heart of Grand Island hosting a Friday night concert and a free outdoor family movie on Saturday evening. Beginning this year, Corey McGowan Productions will fund an annual business scholarship for a graduating Grand Island High School senior pursuing a four-year business degree.
Last year, McGowan founded the Taste of Niagara Falls, which will be held Sept. 3-4. He said he hopes this will be one of the largest festivals in Western New York, giving his company public events in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Grand Island.
"While I love Buffalo and truly believe it's the greatest city going, I know how amazing Grand Island and Niagara Falls are, and it is very important to me they be showcased for everyone to truly see all of their offerings and potential," McGowan said.
That passion for his hometown was what prompted McGowan to contact the national office of the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Outdoor Basketball tournament last year when he heard Darien Lake would not hold the tournament and it would cease locally after a 25-year run.
McGowan's enthusiasm in bringing this street festival, sports tournament for adults and youth of both sexes to Grand Island was met with considerable pushback by residents, business leaders and some members of the Town Board.
"I respected the differing opinions, but knew going into this that, once people saw the event for what it truly was, those fears and their heightened sense of insecurity would go away," McGowan said.
The tournament did go off without incident, but McGowan was forced to spend more money on private security than most other cities - and he also enlisted The Peacekeepers, led by Rev. James Gillis, and the Father's Group, led by Lenny Lane, from Buffalo as additional security. He did not receive Town Board approval until late in the game and that hurt his ability to sell sponsorships for the August event.
This year, McGowan plans to hold the tournament on Grand Island Boulevard and use the Town Commons for a festival June 4-5. He has been in front of the Grand Island Town Board and recently met with town officials and business leaders. He expects the town to vote at a March 7 meeting on his proposal to conduct a second annual Gus Macker tournament on the Island.
"There were some intense public voices who strongly do not want events closing Grand Island Boulevard," McGowan said of the recent meeting. "I was able to speak to shed some light on why these events are so important and how I am willing to work them. I also introduced my director of security, Levino Johnson, who put to rest any security concerns."
The primary issue now is the medical plan on the number of ambulances and personnel the town claims is needed for this event. McGowan will spend time between now and the March 7 vote trying to resolve those issues.
"I love this town and believe Grand Island is the best home for the Gus Macker," McGowan said. "In the 1980s and 90s, you would find the Macker in major cities, but the formula has evolved across the country, and what is seen now are small-town tournaments. Having this national brand holding one of its tournament on Grand Island is a major feat and, by continuing to bring this and other regionally recognizable events to the Island, traffic and businesses will grow, and our town will be recognized - not just for their bridges, but what lies between them."
McGowan went out of his way to introduce his Macker plans to Supervisor Nathan McMurray during his campaign last year and he said he is impressed with the support he has received in Town Hall.
"It is refreshing to see Nate is the exact same person as he was when he was running. What he said then, he is doing now and the title has not changed him. I also commend Town Board members Billica, Madigan, Kinney and Aronica for truly having the best interest of the town in mind when they make decisions. They all want what is best for Grand Island and its residents and business leaders," McGowan said.
If he receives a positive vote March 7, McGowan said, "I will hit the ground running on recruiting teams, volunteers and obtaining sponsors. It will be very important for the local residents and businesses to get behind this event by embracing it so we can all showcase our wonderful community."
McGowan said he plans to add a celebrity 3-on-3 event for the community on the Saturday night after the tournament games.
McGowan is truly looking forward to celebrating his 27th birthday with his family and friends during a St. Patrick's Day Party he is promoting at River Oaks with a Tragically Hip cover band on Saturday, March 19.
"My mom has always been supportive and instrumental in advocating that it is OK to think out of the box," McGowan said with pride. "I also could not do this without my girlfriend, Ellie, who does everything to help at all of the events, including wearing the Gus Macker mascot costume or setting up or tearing down events."
Visit www.coreymcgowan.com for a complete schedule of McGowan's events.
Corey McGowan with Gus Macker founder Scott McNeal.
Mike Billoni, a former award-winning sportswriter for the Tonawanda News, Buffalo-Courier-Express and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, also is the former vice president/general manager of the Buffalo Bisons (where he served under Bob and Mindy Rich).
He is a member of the Buffalo Bisons Hall of Fame, as the team sold more than 1 million tickets for each of six seasons in the new downtown stadium during his term as GM.
Billoni also is secretary of the board of directors of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park; he is active at St. Stephen RC Church; and he is a freelance writer for Niagara Frontier Publications.
He can be reached at [email protected]. He and his wife, Debbie, reside on Grand Island.