NEW MANAGER STEERS REGATTA OUT OF DEBT
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) - Friday, June 19, 1998
Author: TOM BARNES AND TIFFANY PITTS, POST-GAZETTE STAFF WRITER
Last year, the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta was $750,000 in debt, facing several lawsuits and being bombarded with months of what organizers considered awful publicity.
But that's all in the past now, board Chairman James Roddey said yesterday, when he and officials of DiCesare-Engler Productions outlined the boat races, waterskiing shows, air shows, fireworks, laser displays and other events planned for this year's regatta.
About 1.5 million people are expected to attend this year's event from July 30 to Aug. 2, said Pat DiCesare of DiCesare-Engler, the new manager of the regatta.
Some of this year's activities include The Children's Village and the ``Regatta Thunder'' fireworks display, a Grand Am lucky regatta winner, the annual ``Anything That Floats'' race, a Laser Fantasy show and the lumberjack show.
There also will be an air show with military flybys, a synchronized helicopter flight down the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers and parachute demonstrations.
The Village People, the Mamas and the Papas, Freddie Jackson, Morris Day & The Time, and the rock group Kansas will provide the event's music.
Zambelli Internationale of New Castle will light up the sky each night with fireworks displays.
The regatta also will host two kickoff events on Tuesday and Wednesday of regatta week, before the event begins Thursday. The regatta lasts through the weekend.
The first kickoff event for the 1998 regatta will be a ``gala'' July 28 at the Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers, Downtown. At that time Gov. Ridge will be honored as the annual ``river person of the year.''
The second preliminary event will be July 29's Regatta Bridge Party on the Sixth Street Bridge, which will be closed for the evening event.
The longtime concert-promotion firm DiCesare-Engler replaces hotel manager Gene Connelly, who powered the regatta for 20 years before encountering financial problems last year.
Roddey said that DiCesare-Engler had retired about $450,000 of the $750,000 debt amassed last year. The new managers also took responsibility for dealing with vendors, food and drink concessionaires and other firms that were owed money from last year.
Connelly is still on the revamped 15-member regatta board but doesn't have the high-profile role he had in the past.
To cut costs, this year's regatta has been trimmed from six days to four days and the budget has been cut from last year's $2 million to $1.2 million.
The regatta's income comes mainly from the sale of sponsorships to local companies. Roddey said the regatta would get a percentage of the regatta profits from DiCesare-Engler. In order to retire the debt, however, the regatta won't see any money this year or next year, but could eventually receive from $250,000 to $500,000 a year.
The regatta still owes the city about $260,000 for police, fire and public works services, and Roddy said the city would be paid in full.
He said the nonprofit regatta board would invest any money it made back into riverfront education, safety and environmental programs, such as sponsoring annual cleanups of litter along riverbanks and perhaps helping to fund the Voyager education boat at the Carnegie Science Center.
CITY FIRM FAVORED FOR REGATTA CONCERT PROMOTER THE FRONT-RUNNER
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) - Saturday, January 10, 1998
Author: TOM BARNES, POST-GAZETTE STAFF
DiCesare-Engler Productions, Pittsburgh's leading concert promoter, is the front-runner for the job of running the 1998 Three Rivers Regatta.
James C. Roddey, who heads a committee overseeing a restructuring of the debt-plagued river event, said yesterday that four private management firms, including DiCesare-Engler , were being interviewed to take over for former regatta Chairman Eugene Connelly.
Roddey said the choice of the firm to manage this year's regatta hadn't been made yet but was expected to be announced at a news conference on Tuesday.
But three other people with close connections to the regatta said yesterday that the odds-on favorite was DiCesare-Engler , which has been in the entertainment business here for 25 years.
The firm stages concerts at the I.C. Light Amphitheatre at Station Square, books entertainment at the A.J. Palumbo Center at Duquesne University, and brings a number of shows to the Civic Arena and Three Rivers Stadium.
``We're talking to (regatta officials) but that's about it right now,'' Rich Engler said yesterday.
Roddey said the firms in the running included one other local firm, plus one regional and one national firm. He wouldn't give the names.
In addition to the choice of the private management firm, Roddey is expected to announce formally Tuesday that this year's regatta will be reduced to four days - a Thursday through Sunday in early August.
The regatta had been four days long from its start in 1978 until 1996, when Connelly expanded it to six days. That was given as one of the reasons the regatta deficit swelled in the past two years.
The regatta board is also to be trimmed to 15 members from the present 43. The members haven't been announced, but Connelly is expected to be one. His role, however, will be reduced.
Roddey also said yesterday that the regatta's debts had increased to $750,000 - nearly $100,000 more than the previous figure of $665,000, which was released six weeks ago after an exhaustive report on regatta problems by an outside consulting firm.
Salaries, office rent, utility bills and the settling of several lawsuits have led to the increase in the red ink, he said.
Six of the regatta's eight employees were let go at the end of 1997 to help cut expenses. The only two on the payroll are Executive Vice President Bruce Brinzda and Marketing Director Monica Pacharis, Roddey said.
He's putting together a plan to erase the debt, which includes $265,000 owed to the city for police and public safety services for the past four regattas. A $25,000 payment is due by the end of January, Deputy Mayor Sal Sirabella said.
REGATTA WILL BE SHORTER, LEANER PROMOTERS SAY EVENT WILL NOT LOSE ITS FLAIR DESPITE BUDGET CUTS, LEADERSHIP CHANGES
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) - Wednesday, January 14, 1998
Author: TOM BARNES AND JOHN M.R. BULL, POST-GAZETTE STAFF
The 1998 Three Rivers Regatta will be trimmed from six days to four, have its budget cut nearly in half and be overseen by a board that is roughly a third of its former size.
But promoters vowed yesterday that the slimmed-down, retooled river event still will have all of its pizzazz. It will be run by a private firm that specializes in entertainment and will feature laser shows, fireworks, speedboat races, air shows, hot air balloons, concerts and other big-time crowd-pleasers.
``The regatta is a very important event for Pittsburgh,'' businessman James C. Roddey, head of a regatta restructuring committee, said at a news conference yesterday on major changes in the regatta's operation and financial accountability.
``It puts $15 million a year into the economy and draws at least 1.5 million people Downtown. That's almost as many as the Pirates. We talk about the importance of saving the Pirates, but it's just as important to save the regatta.''
Roddey announced these changes:
* The 1998 regatta will last four days rather than six, as it has for the past two years. It will be held on the first or second weekend of August, with exact dates to be announced. On the weekend before the regatta, public concerts will be held Downtown and an open-air party will take place on the Sixth Street Bridge, to get people warmed up for the coming event.
* The regatta budget will be cut from $2 million, which it was in 1997, to $1.2 million, and it will be balanced. Efforts have begun to line up corporate sponsors and all of the big ones - Shop 'n Save, Pontiac, I.C. Light, Pepsi-Cola and others - seem ready to participate again.
* All 43 members of the previous regatta board of directors have resigned and will be replaced by a new 15-member oversight board. Members will include Roddey; Superior Court Senior Judge John Brosky; Barbara McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce; Allegheny County Controller Frank Lucchino; and former regatta Chairman Eugene Connelly. Ten others are to be named in about a week.
The new board will have open meetings. Board members will be banned from any conflicts of interests, be required to fill out financial disclosure forms and attend classes on managing a nonprofit organization, Roddey said.
He said that unlike the old regatta board, the new board will meet regularly, probably four times a year, and there will be regular financial audits of regatta finances. The audits will be done, for free, by Maher Duessel, a Pittsburgh-based certified public accounting firm.
Roddey said he intended to be ``interim chairman'' for a year, then turn over the reigns to a successor to be named by the board.
* Connelly, who was regatta chairman for 20 years before running into financial problems last summer, will have a seat on the new 15-member board but won't be in day-to-day charge of operations as he has in the past.
Connelly, who wasn't at the press conference, said later yesterday he can live with the changes.
``I'm very favorable'' to the new organization, he said. ``I think it's good for the city and the region. It can enhance the overall image and future of the regatta to do the things they are proposing.
``I still retain the titles of founder and president emeritus. I'll definitely have a reduced role, but I'll still be able to participate and help as much as I can.''
* A contract is being worked out with concert promoters Pat DiCesare and Rich Engler to manage the regatta this year and in the future. Unlike in the past, the regatta itself will have no permanent employees.
The DiCesare-Engler firm, which runs the I.C. Light Amphitheater at Station Square and has 25 years of experience in promoting concerts and other entertainment, also will help the regatta board eliminate its deficit, which stands at $670,000 but is expected to grow to about $750,000 when expenses such as rent, salaries, utilities and settlement of pending lawsuits are included.
The regatta still owes $400,000 for expenses for previous events, including $60,000 to Zambelli Fireworks. In addition, the regatta owes the city $265,000 for past police and public safety services, Roddey said.
DiCesare-Engler will line up corporate sponsors for the regatta and will run the concession booths where food, drink, clothing and other paraphernalia are sold.
Roddey said he expects it will take two or three years to pay off the debt. Once the regatta is returned to a profitable footing, DiCesare-Engler will give the board a percentage of the gross proceeds.
Roddey plans eventually to set funds aside for projects to improve local riverfronts and waterways, including water-safety and environmental projects to be done jointly with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard.
The regatta was begun 20 years ago, largely by Gene Connelly and his brother John, who owns the Sheraton Hotel Station Square and the Gateway Clipper Fleet. It was a four-day event until 1996. Then expenses increased and financial oversight declined, according to a recent analysis of regatta operations.
The regatta's bubble burst in late July, when Ida D'Errico, whom Connelly had just fired as regatta vice president, wrote a lengthy letter to regatta directors, claiming Connelly had misused nearly $127,000 in regatta funds for personal uses.
That led the board of directors to hire an outside investigating firm, Corporate Board Services Inc., to look into D'Errico's charges. The firm found a number of instances of poor management by Connelly, which led to the appointment of the oversight committee headed by Roddey.
The regatta had been mismanaged for years, Roddey said, with no budgets, no audits and no financial reports.
Yet Roddey defended the decision to give Connelly a seat on the revamped board. Connelly has been identified with the regatta for so many years and still has many contacts in the business community that can help gain sponsorships for future events, Roddey said.
He said Connelly often, without public fanfare, used his personal funds over the years to help the regatta.
By Tim O'Brien
Publication: Amusement Business
Date: Monday, August 23 1999
The riverbanks at Point State Park were alive with the sounds of music, the roar of racing boat propellers and the hissing of hot air balloons during the four day Shop 'n Save Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, Aug. 5-8.
According to Pat DiCesare, there were also happy
sounds coming from the estimated 1.5 million people who attended some aspect of this year's event. DiCesare, CEO of Regatta Management Group, in its second season of running the 22-year-old regatta, told AB the crowd was equivalent to the 1998 numbers.
"We had a record run going until the rains came on Sunday. It started early enough to cancel our early morning balloon launch and lasted until about 4 p.m.," DiCesare noted. "But the crowds came on strong in the late afternoon and evening."
The festival features the largest inland regatta in the United States, with three classes of powerboat racing. The free-admission event also features hot air balloon races and aerial competitions, top-name concerts, a children's play area with free carousel rides and shows, and "the city's largest fireworks show" by Zambelli Internationale.
Pittsburgh Regatta Inc. is the non-profit group that owns the event, and DiCesare took over the management in 1998 with a debt of $750,000. "The management owed the city and various vendors, and it wasn't getting any better. I took over in 1998 and have paid our way both years. Plus, we repaid $400,000 of that debt, and we've paid another $100,000 of that debt this year. I expect to clear up the rest of the debt next year." He has a 15-year contract to manage the regatta.
This year, DiCesare's group brought in more than $1.2 million in cash sponsorships, plus an additional $200,000 of in-kind sponsors. This is the fifth consecutive year Shop 'n Save was title sponsor, and it marked the 13th year the largest repeat sponsor, Pontiac-GMC dealers, provided the official vehicles to the event.
Instead of booking his own food booths, DiCesare sold the rights to all food concessions to Specialty Concessions, owned by local restaurateur Shaheen Boules. This year Boules paid $150,000 for the right to all food.
DiCesare had the beer rights and Coors purchased a $70,000 sponsorship package. "We didn't start out to sell only Coors products, but no other beer companies approached us, so we sold only Coors," he said.
In the past, beer was sold for $5 for a 24-ounce cup. "Coors wanted us to sell only 16-ounce beers for $3, so we did," he said. "I didn't particularly like the idea, because people don't like to stand in line and when they do, they want to buy a bigger beer. Beer sales went down $10,000 to $65,000 this year because of that."
He said both the $3- and the $5-size beers will be available next year. One thing that did help beer sales this year was the addition of live music to the two large beer garden tents. "The entertainment helped hold the people longer," he said.
All talent is booked in-house. The Coors Concert Series presented a major free show each night. Acts were Kool & the Gang, Pat Benatar and Donnie Iris, David Clayton Thomas and Blood, Sweat & Tears with special guests The Jaggerz, and The Isley Brothers.
The 15-acre state park is located adjacent to Three Rivers Stadium in downtown Pittsburgh. "Two new stadiums are being constructed down here, and that took two major parking areas away from us. Plus, the Pittsburgh Pirates were at home during our event. It got a bit busy, and parking became a big issue."
The city put extra public transportation into service and that helped alleviate some of the pressure, but parking was still a problem.
The park and its immediate environs can hold up to 200,000 people at one time. DiCesare said the average length of stay during most of the event is two to three hours per person, meaning "we can turn the area three times a day. There's always a large group coming and going." The event starts each day at noon and "the city wants us to close each night at 10," he added.