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JULY 08 - JULY 16, 2014

Erie County Business Leaders Run Artpark like Some Private Club

By Mike Hudson

July 08, 2014

George Osborne gets $120,000 per year to stage taxpayer subsidized concerts. Unlike concert promoters who have to make it on ticket and concession sales, taxpayers have their earnings confiscated so that Osborne shows may go on.

Artpark, the Lewiston institution that has presented artists such as Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr to audiences on the Niagara Frontier, the entertainment corporation that has revenues of some $5.5 million per year and has an $800,000 annual payroll, is subsidized by you, the taxpayer, and private donations.

The Lewiston arts and entertainment venue attracts an estimated quarter million people to its summertime performances each year despite inclement weather, fierce competition, a weak economy and rising gas prices.

With large audiences for oftentimes vulgar bands, it is hard to understand why Artpark &
Company needs to be subsidized by the Town of Lewiston. The town is presently operating at a deficit and Artpark & Company is responsible for about 30 percent of the deficit.

Artpark is not unique. Around the country, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles publicly funded arts venues became the norm in late 20th Century America.

The question is why?

Do wealthy artists like Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr, or filthy rich visual artists such as Damien Hirst and Julian Schnable really need taxpayer funding to keep them from suffering the indignity of living in a cold garret with no coal to burn or running water for tea?

No, ff course not. Dylan can fill a minor league baseball park full of fans perfectly willing to fork over $50 a ticket for hearing him run through the long stack of classic singles he's recorded over the years. And Hirst's work has sold at auction for in excess $16.8 million.

So why do bankers, businessmen and others across America feel the need to subsidize the output of such luminaries with people's hard earned tax dollars.

Up at Artpark, a fellow named George Osborne pulls down between $120,000 and $140,000 a year to promote big name talent. In this respect, he is no different than hundreds of other concert promoters working all across the United States and the world. The difference comes in how Osborne is compensated.

The success or failure of Osborne's concerts is immaterial; likewise, the ticket prices. Artpark patrons went to see the Ringo Starr concert a couple of weeks ago for a base ticket price of $17, whereas concert goers in other cities on the tour paid a minimum of $40 to see the same show.

That's because the events at Artpark are heavily underwritten, not just by private charitable organizations like the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo and the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropics but by federal, state and local taxpayers.

Most controversial is a direct subsidy of $100,000 paid by Lewiston residents from money the town gets from Modern Disposal, which is also located there.

Founded in 1997, Artpark and Company, Inc., is registered as a not-for-profit corporation and operates as a separate legal entity, licensed, until 2017, by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, to manage programs at the Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park, a 150-acre park on the Lower Niagara River.

Artpark & Company has a volunteer board made up of 38 members and a 16-member advisory council, according to its website. The board members are for the most part inactive and include mostly community leaders who do not live in Lewiston.

Their names read like a Who's Who of Western New York's rich and influential, with most hailing from Buffalo and its more affluent Erie County suburbs.

The top five directors, who oversee much of Artpark's planning process, budget development, sponsorship obtainment and event organization, are led by Chairman John Camp, a senior vice president at HSBC who lives in Amherst.

Vice Chair is Brian Geary, who is a director and shareholder at Linwood Investment Advisors, where he provides investment consulting to high-net worth clients. He is a member of the Investment Committee, which is responsible for driving the execution of its investment strategy for its wealth management and investment clients.

Prior to joining Linwood, Geary worked at Ernst & Young where he performed tax consulting, research, and advisory services in several areas including investments, high-net worth tax planning, retirement and estate planning. Prior to that, Geary – who also lives in Amherst -- was a partner at Sanderson & Company and also a senior investment consultant at Courier Capital.

Other top directors include Michael Gianquinto, former banking executive with Key, HSBC, and First Niagara, who now serves as vice president of Emblem Health, and Vincent Agnello a law professor and administrator at Niagara University.

Whatever their motivation, the directors of Artpark have turned a blind eye toward the societal problems caused by the institution in the community.

The Niagara County Sheriff's Department has filled in for the overtaxed Lewiston Police Department on concert nights.

"We supplement (with patrol and auxiliary deputies) and so do the State Police," Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour said," and we put the mounted division out."

Undersheriff Michael Filicetti notes that sort of support does hit his budget's bottom line.

"That's the problem we have," he said. "We have a budget and (supply manpower for the concerts) cost is extra. This takes money from somewhere else."

"If (Lewiston Police) Chief (Christopher) Salada asks for help, we're going to do whatever we can to help," Voutour said. "But this is beyond what we budget for."

The issue of providing additional support to local law enforcement to deal with concert related issues has been raised with Artpark officials before. Voutour said they were unresponsive.

"Artpark does nothing to support (public safety outside the park)," Voutour said. "Now that they charge (for the concerts), we suggested a $1 a ticket public safety surcharge. They weren't interested."

While Lewiston Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey has repeatedly called for Artpark to bear a greater burden of its own operational costs in Lewiston, the Town Board led by former Lewiston police chief Ron Winkley doesn't seem interested either.

The "star power" invoked by nostalgia-filled evenings of music and often drunken reverie on the grassy expanses provided by Artpark along the eastern bank of the Niagara River seems enough to silence the critics.

And nobody but nobody is asking why a group of well-heeled Erie County business leaders have taken the lead in operating a Niagara County attraction that is, on its surface at least, a charitable institution.







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