Wednesday, July 13, 2011

For Montreal, U2 Concert Another Economic Disaster

There's little doubt that to U2 fans, the Montreal concert last weekend was an entertainment event to be remembered, but when all is said and done, it was also a money pit wherein the city spent a fortune supporting what was essentially a commercial for-profit concert, with little to show in return.

The question goes to the heart of the Montreal philosophy of spending massively on summer entertainment, which supposedly translates into economic benefits by way of increased tourist activity.

When it comes to economic spinoffs, some events make perfect sense, some are questionable and some are downright dogs. This was a dog.....
The U2 concert is an example of what can go wrong when officials become obsessed with prestige rather than economics.

The city's selection criteria for events that qualify for a subsidy seems to be based on how much glory and publicity the event will bring to the city, rather than sound economics, where money is spent to get a higher economic return.

Just last week it was announced thast NASCAR will no longer receive a 1 million dollar subsidy to host a car race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve race track. The event is a solid tourist attraction, not on the level of the Formula One, but a good performer. In addition the event is relatively easy on the city with activities held at the under-used facility on St. Helen's Island, close by, but away from the city itself.

Perhaps it is the 'blue collar' perception of the event that led city officials to pass. After all, tourists in Winebagos don't rate much on the prestige scale.

In 2005 the city rescued the 'prestigious' World Aquatic Championship and as was widely predicted, lost a bundle on the event. Less than half the tickets were actually sold (the rest dumped on the market at reduced prices or outright, given away) and the city went for a $4 million dollar swim.

The very next year, the poorly organized and attended 2005 Outgames lost a whopping 5.3 million dollars, which the city was responsible for, as the event fizzled rather badly. Considering that half of the original budget was provided by various levels of government, the event actually lost over $12 million dollars. Companies supplying goods and services to the games were largely stiffed for payment.
So much for economic spinoffs!

And so before entering into subsidy agreements, one would think that city officials would take a long hard economic look at what each event can offer the city.

There are some events that are no-brainers, including the annual Formula 1 Grand Prix event which represents an economic adrenal rush, well worth whatever the city invests.

Better still is Toronto's Pride Week which may be second only to New Orelans Mardi Gras in terms of economic spinoff.
The Toronto event cost the city peanuts to host considering the return.
An influx of monied tourists, intent on embarking on a bacchanalian orgy of spending, drop over $100 million on the city! LINK.
All this for the price of a small subsidy and policing. Well-played, Toronto!

Compare this to Montreal's U2 concert, which even the most optimistic estimates pitted the economic spin-offs at a little over $3 million dollars. LINK{FR}
For this the city gave a direct subsidy of $450,000 and spent a fortune on logisitcs, security and transportation.
All this in addition to the inconvenience heaped on local residents and businesses.

The concert was held on the grounds of the defunct Blue Bonnets raceway which could not have been a poorer choice. The facilty abuts the Decarie Expressway, the city's busiest north/south highway and is  boxed on the west side by the the tiny neighbouring town of Hampstead (and parts of Cote saint-Luc). The town of millionaires was so panicked by the thought of so many concert goers invading their town in search of parking that they banned street parking for everybody, residents included,  on Friday and Saturday!  They needn't have worried, the police and the media had been hammering away at concert goers with warnings of doom to anyone arriving by car.
The adjacent Decarie Square shopping mall closed it's parking lot to regular customers (I wonder what the merchants thought of all that) in order to free up places for the cars of concert-goers at the outrageous price of $40 . Because of the media hype about taking public transport, the mall parking was empty. Karma!
The raised service roads on both sides of the busy Decarie Expresway were reduced to two lanes. Exits on the highway were shut down. All the stores and business along a two kilometre strip were penalized by the concert.

The really sad part of Montreal's preparations was massive over-spending on security.

The city's bus and metro company spent almost a million dollars to increase capacity on the Metro line. LINK  
Urgences Sante, Montreal's government run ambulance service posted 50 paramedics to the venue for the two days at cost of over one hundred thousand dollars. Considering that there were only 50 cases in total, it meant that each ambulance team had one case over two days and some of those cases were dispensing band-aids.

The police presence was enormous throughout the four day event (with preparations) with dozens and dozens of officers standing around, huddled in little groups having a gay old time, doing nothing.

The Decarie expressway service roads were subject to no parking rules and an emergency lane was set up, making all the stores and businesses along the strip practically inaccessible. Businesses reported a disastrous drop in traffic and up to 80% loss of revenue.

So fearful were Montrealers of going anywhere near the venue that they could have renamed the Decarie service road, the 'Fukishama' boulevard!
And so as one can expect, the roads were deserted, even with the one less lane. Remove the cops and it would have been ideal for drag racing, this in the middle of the afternoon!

I ventured there by accident and found my regular car-wash absolutely empty, so I jumped in to have a quick wash. The boys told me that they had but a few customers on a sunny Saturday that usually meant lines around the block.

That was the real disaster of the concert, the negative economic spinoffs. For all the businesses, stores and restaurants on the Decarie service roads, economic activity ground to a halt. To add insult to injury, as of Monday the city still hadn't removed the lane closures. The merchants are so angry that they are thinking of suing the city.

So much for a good idea.

Next time U2 wants to hold a concert, let Toronto have it.


  1. I doubt Toronto would screw things up as in Montreal. Too many bureurcrats.

  2. Fee fi fo fum, I detect the keyboard of a jealous Montrealer, Anon!

    QUÉBEC ÇA FAIRE! QUÉBEC KNOWS HOW!... royally f--k it up!

    Bonne chance to the merchants who try to sue the city. Quit while you're behind! Maybe the Decarie Square merchants should try that. At least it's private property and there is an owner to hold accountable. Gouging a--holes!

    Editor, thanks again for reinforcing why I made a wise choice moving to Toronto...and now Mississauga. The only flop I can think of here is Carabana, a Caribbean festival, and even THAT was a money maker for Toronto.

    BTW, Anon, doesn't Montreal have something like 57 city counselors in the original city, let alone the suburbs. that amalgamated and suburbs that want out? Montreal city parks, most of them anyway, look like s--t, the bathrooms are locked up, the drinking fountains are dry, and if you call the city for anything, they just about tell you to drop dead, and if you want special services, you give them a cheque before they'll even talk to you! For city services, Montreal sucks sucks sucks!

    I take my family to the lakeside parks in my Mississauga neighbourhood. They're pristine, they're clean, and they have barbecues, cleaned every day, and we have wonderful barbecue suppers there a few times each summer. Their other parks are gorgeous too, not the putrid, neglected and unserviced dumps too many Montreal parks are! ...and YOUR municipal taxes are much higher, too. All that for less.

  3. "Editor, thanks again for reinforcing why I made a wise choice moving to Toronto..."

    Y'a quelque chose qui me dit que Montréal vous intéresse toujours...Ha!Peut-être les commentaires quotidiens sur le sujet,peut-être...

    Vous vouliez dire "Québec,ça va faire" ou "Québec sait faire" ?

  4. "...obsessed with prestige rather than economics."

    Wow...for a long long time, I've been looking for a short and effective statement that describes our hideous economy and dilapidated infrastructure. Having said that, i think it describes everything around us: politics, social priorities, demographic 'strategies' etc. etc.

    thanks editor

  5. "...obsessed with prestige rather than economics."

    Le canaya et le G 20 de toronto?

  6. C'est drôle même si Montréal est à l'envers, je l'a préfère grandement à cette ville insipide et insignifiante qu'est Mississauga !Commençons par virer le Maire Tremblay et ses enveloppes brunes (brunes comme les chemises des anglos de ce blogue :-)

  7. Wow! what a one sided look at the safety measures considering the recent events in Vancouver. Also to call blue bonnets and unsuitable venue maybe we should consider the countless successful events that have been running there for years. If your concern for local businesses stops at the top and bottom of Decarie then perhaps you should reference a map of the city of Montreal. And if you are truly concerned about where the city's support money goes maybe you should be proactive about contacting the department who handles that money and volunteer to be a voice from the community.