LACONIA — Whatever people say about the first year of LaconiaFest, no matter how it shakes out, it's going to cost some people a lot of money. The real question is whether or not the losers will be the concert promoters, the taxpayers of Laconia or both, as attendance at the concerts fail to meet expectations.
Concert promoter Tyler Glover said Wednesday that he believes he's been overbilled by the city of Laconia for public safety expenses even though he and his business partner had told the city their projected attendance numbers had to be reduced significantly since the planning process began earlier this winter.
“I feel like I'm getting extorted,” Glover said, referring to what he said was a threat by the city to shut the venue down if they didn't pay them what the city said it owed.
In April, Laurie DiGiovanni, LaconiaFest producer, promised a huge event, and the venue was licensed to host 33,000 people at any given time.
City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that the city determined staffing requirements based on the number of people Glover said would be in attendance.
He said the first weekend, which by all accounts was cold and turnout for LaconiaFest was far lower than expected, was the template the city used to project for the rest of the week and since then has it drastically lowered the number of public safety employees needed.
During the first days of LaconiaFest, the city deployed 313 police officer hours, including 148 hours from Nashua PD and 42 hours from Londonderry PD. Day two, Sunday, the police billed for $24,810 for police hours including 56 from Nashua and 60 from Londonderry.
The city billed LaconiaFest 122 firefighter/EMT hours for Saturday's show and 95 hours for Sunday's show. The total bill sent from the city to LaconiaFest for Saturday was $27,645 and $24,810 for Sunday.
Glover sat down with Myers before Saturday and, in his mind, the two of them agreed that the billing would reflect 5,000 attendees per show, far lower than the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 originally projected. He said he wanted to go with 2,500 to 3,000 people but feared limiting his walk-ins because the number of public safety personnel would limit the number of walk-ins.
In Glover's opinion, the city required public safety personnel numbers for a crowd at least twice that size.
Myers said that public safety planning for an outdoor event is an “inexact science” and some common sense needs to be applied. For example, he said that the accepted ratio between number of attendees and police is generally about one officer for every 1,000 people. However, with 12 acres of property and an outdoor venue with various other activities, he said it's not realistic to think one police officer could patrol that much space even if there were fewer than 1,000 people.
He said the contract signed by Glover's business partner estimated that up to 25,000 people could attend some of the bigger performances and the city police and fire departments used those figures for their planning.
“We have been rapidly reducing the number of public safety personnel needed,” Myers said, a statement corroborated by the city's fire and police chief. It is also reflected in the bills sent to LaconiaFest for Monday and Tuesday that were $13,985 and $12,085 respectively.
As to Saturday and Sunday, Myers said the operators of LaconiaFest allowed free admission and made it known through social media, leading to the possibility of much larger crowds than expected. Free admission continued through Monday but was ended before Wednesday's shows.
“We are not intentionally overstaffing on the city's part,” Myers said, noting that the city already absorbed a number of soft costs, such as planning, that are not reflected in any costs assessed to LaconiaFest.
According to a contract for LaconiaFest and agreed to by Mike Trainor, who was the original representative of the concert venue to the city, the prepaid fees for police, fire and code inspection services were to total $309,830, which was due from LaconiaFest on May 31 in escrow, but was never paid.
The city decided to allow the venue to go forward anyway, and as of June 15, LaconiaFest has paid $35,000. During the first four days, the city has incurred $78,525 in public safety expenses. These costs do not include Wednesday's Steven Tyler concert, which by all accounts drew about 4,500 to 5,000 people and was a greatly enjoyed by those in attendance.
When asked if the city would shut down LaconiaFest if the incurred expenses weren't paid, Myers said that he has contacted the city's lawyer's and said he can't let the expenses “fall too far behind” because of the city's responsibility to taxpayers.
“We are really trying to work with LaconiaFest,” Myers said. “We want to make this work.”
“Everyone from the city side wants this to succeed and to continue into future years,” Myers said. “The implication that this is a cash cow is incorrect.”