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JULY 15 - JULY 23, 2014

Could Mayor’s Concert Promotion be beer-based?

By Frank Parlato

July 15, 2014

As the photo clearly reveals, the trees and narrow corridor on Old Falls St., prevent a large crowd from even seeing the stage. The venue is more suited to what Rotella has in mind.

 It is hard to understand why Mayor Paul Dyster is fighting so hard to give public money to the Niagara Falls Blues Festival. He wants to give them more, in fact, than they asked for.

As we reported weeks ago, Dyster first sought to give $40,000 to the Hard Rock Café to stage a rock concert. The City Council turned him down in a surprise vote that saw Councilman Andrew Touma vote against staging the concert.

Dyster has spent more than $700,000 of public money on concerts staged by the Hard Rock, and helped generate untold profits for the Niagara Falls franchise of that multinational corporation, owned by the wealthy Seminole Indian Tribe.

A few weeks later, Dyster proposed that $40,000 be used to help fund The Niagara Falls Blues Festival which will be held on Old Falls St on Sept 11-14.

This is the seventh year for the festival, and the city subsidized it to the tune of between $2,500 and $30,000, although last year they received no public money and put on what has been called their most successful show.

At the last council meeting, Touma modified the mayor's request of $40,000 for the Blues Fest, downsizing the gift to $10,000. The mayor balked and postponed the request until the July 21 meeting.

Touma said he would not support Dyster's request for $40,000 because the festival's organizer, Toby Rotella, originally asked for only a quarter of that amount.

There was deadlock here since Touma's fellow council members are split. Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker are prepared to give the mayor what he wants, while Bob Anderson and Glenn Choolokian said they wouldn't even approve the $10,000.

Toby Rotella with his daughter

It was clearly Dyster's idea to up the taxpayer contribution. And just as clearly Touma will decide.

So why would a mayor push public money on concert promoters? It is puzzling.

Then a source gave me a possible clue.

He said, "I believe Dyster's insistence that the Blues Festival be given $40,000 is evidence of his involvement with Global Spectrum (the private company that manages Old Falls Street and is paid by the city and USA Niagara, and also reaps whatever profits it earns from the events it stages.)

"Dyster's almost irrational insistence that the Blues Festival get the $40,000 is a measure of the pressure he's under to make it happen. Global is tied into the Buffalo waterfront redevelopment. They have a restaurant bar there that is managed by Dominic Verni, formerly of the Hard Rock, and a close buddy of Dyster's. Global also has other ties to the Buffalo waterfront area with regard to management and facilities. I believe the more city cash Dyster gives to the Blues, means less money/services that Global has to come up with at some other point, or more money they make.  The exact arrangement may never be discovered but I am sure Global Spectrum is the key. Remember all roads in the Dyster administration lead to the Buffalo anonymous fund."

Well it sounded perhaps a little far fetched, almost conspiratorial so I called Blues Festival's treasurer Sherry Kushner of Ransomville.

I asked her, why is Dyster trying so hard to give you $40,000 of taxpayer money. Is this what you said you needed?

"No," she said. "(The Dyster administration) came to us and said, 'We'd like to see a big act and there is money available to do that with.'"

Then you were prepared to do the festival with a lesser subsidy?

"Actually, no subsidy at all," she said. "I would not have asked the city for funding if (Dyster) had not said, 'this is available.'

"Of course, the city gave us a lot of money in previous years that got the festival started and we acknowledge that, but I was never of a mind to always have the city support the Blues Festival. We had no money from the city last year. 

"This year, also, we don't need a public subsidy. We already hired bands. Everything is in place."

What does Global Spectrum have to do with your concerts, if anything? I asked.

"Global Spectrum sells the beer," she said.

Is it possible that Dyster wants a big act so it will draw more people so that Global Spectrum will sell more beer? Does Global Spectrum provide food? I asked.

"No, just beer," Kushner said. "They split the profits with us after they take out the cost of the beer, their employees and other expenses.  Last year I think we made about $5,000. They are good partners."

With a big act, beer sales would be higher?

"Sure," she said. "But the show is going to go on whether or not we have funding from the city of Niagara Falls for a large act."

Can anyone else sell beer?

"No," she said. "The requirement is that we use the money to book a big act and Global Spectrum gets exclusive beer sales."

I called councilman Touma.

I asked, is it city policy now to give money to people who don’t ask for money?

Touma said, "I don't think it should be our position to pursue not for profits to give them money. I was approached by (The Blues Fest committee) for $10,000 and I was willing to give $10,000. That was the last I heard of it until it was on the agenda for $40,000."

Is it now the city's plan to devise and encourage concert promoters to take more money so they can book bigger acts?

Touma said. "That should be the organizers' job. Typically they come to us with what they want. It is their event."

Is it possible that Mayor Dyster is trying to also help Global Spectrum so that public money is used to aid a private company to get bigger crowds and hence bigger beer sales?

Touma said. "It is possible that that is what happened? Your guess is as good as mine. If it is, it is quite disappointing. There is, however, no way I'm going with the $40,000. It may not be popular but it’s the right decision to stick with the $10,000 for the Blues Fest."

I next called the founder and organizer of the Blues Fest, Toby Rotella in Florida.

I asked him: If you don't get money from the city, are you going to cancel the show?

"No," Rotella said. "I planned not to get any money but, if they are going to give money away, they might as well give money to the Blues Festival."

Can you do it on your own?

"Yes. You need three things to do a blues festival," Rotella said. "One: you need port-o-potties. Two: You need beer, and three: you need a band. We got all three."

Could part of the reason Dyster wants to throw $40,000 at you, other than help you out and bring people to the city, be to enhance beer sales for his friends at Global Spectrum?

"I don't know. Global Spectrum takes care of the beer sales and we split it," Rotella said. "The city came up with the idea and I said. 'if you got money and you want to give it way, I can get a big act.' The city came to me and said 'we got money and we want a big act.' They wanted someone big like Buddy Guy who costs around $50,000."

Rotella said however that Old Falls St, would not be ideal for a concert such as Guy's.

"The audience would be standing only (no or few seats) and people would have to peer around trees and the planters," Rotella said. "There would not be enough places for all the people to stand. The street is too narrow.  The people would be really tight in there. There is only so many people that can fit in that area of Old Falls St. They would be down to the state park. They would have to go on the rooftops. For a show like Buddy Guy, we would be better off to use the city parking lot on Niagara St. and rope it off.

"With the (smaller) acts that we bring in right now, everything is all filled up and it is comfortable. If we bring in Buddy most people won't even be able to see him for they are not even getting close to the stage."

Even people who did not get close might still drink beer, I suggested.

Rotella said, "If they want to drop $40,000, I might be able to get Buddy Guy. But I don't need no money from the city. I'm a blues guy. What do I need money for? The blues are not about money. Money shouldn't be your God. I'm from the ghetto. I book bands and some of these bands they don't have the name but they're just as good."

How much did you make in beer sales last year?

"I don't know, maybe $5,000 or $10,000," Rotella said. "You have to ask Sherry. Anyone can see my books. All it takes is chicken wings and beer. You bring them and while I'm eating you look at the books. You want to come to my house to look at books just let me know and bring the wings and beer. I did not ask for $40,000. We have the show already booked and it will be a fabulous show."

This week Mayor Dyster told the Niagara Gazette that a $40,000 donation would bolster the festival, allowing organizers to further build upon their success by bringing in a national act.

“We have an event that has done very well to grow each year,” Dyster said.

He did not mention the success or growth of Global Spectrum. Perhaps he did not even think of it.

In fairness, he might somehow think that aiding the concert promoter with the people's hard earned money is somehow what his role is as mayor.





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