Dave Matthews Band Caravan moves on, but benefits to city remain

ATLANTIC CITY — The show is over, but the possibilities stemming from the success of the Dave Matthews Band Caravan stop at Bader Field last weekend could be just beginning.

“We learned a lot and we were glad we worked with a very, very professional outfit (promoter Starr Hill Presents),” City Solicitor Bruce Ward said Monday. “And I think we’re pleased that so many new people got to experience the city, especially so many from beyond the tri-state area.”

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As work crews continued breaking down the venue Monday, city officials already had scheduled a debriefing session for Wednesday in advance of a meeting Thursday about the next live music event, Saturday’s AC Summerfest 2011 headlined by rapper Rick Ross at the adjacent Sandcastle Stadium, Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said.

The Caravan already had demonstrated its worth to local music promoters, too.

Jason Forslund, a 24-year-old Ventnor resident, books acts for The Boneyard. The nightclub at 20 S. Virginia Ave. features live music by lesser-known acts at a lower cost than the casinos normally offer.

Forslund said he has been working for the past nine months to revive smaller-scale entertainment and cultural offerings in the area. Locals often complain they can’t find such events in South Jersey, he said, so they travel to Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.

“With something like this, it makes people excited about live music and independent live music,” Forslund said. “It’s definitely something. When I’m baiting someone to come into Atlantic City, I can say, the DMB Caravan came here — and they only came to four places this summer. So that’s huge for us, local promoters, to get big bands to come out here. It makes me hopeful.”

Although stakeholders are happy with the event and its implications for the future, they know there’s room for improvement.

Dirt and grime

When pressed for suggestions, concertgoers typically pointed to the black dust that covered them by the time the show ended each day, as well as the congestion and long wait for shuttles at departure time.

“We’re going to take all suggestions under serious consideration. Anything we can do to make it better for future events, I’m quite sure the city is willing to do that,” City Public Works Director Paul Jerkins said.

Jerkins’ crews spent months preparing the 142-acre site for the event, but still found themselves faced with “an awful lot of grass we were cutting up until the last moment,” he said.

“Without a doubt, if the entire field was fully grassed, I’m quite sure it would’ve been a lot better. But I’ve been to different concerts and events held in different fields, and (Bader) wasn’t that much different than what I personally experienced,” he said.

Last used as a municipal airport, the field closed for good in 2006. Since then, vegetation has grown unhealthy and most of the top soil has blown away. Reseeding the site could bring dust under control, but doing so would cost about $1.6 million, according to an estimate provided by Dixon & Associates Engineering.

The firm did design work for Sandcastle Stadium, so it’s familiar with the city-owned compound, and it oversaw development of Tartaglio Field in Galloway Township, principal Kevin Dixon said Monday.

Jerkins said he had not crunched the numbers but thinks the job could be done for less.

Should city officials decide to undertake that project, they would have plenty of time. Although the Caravan stimulated interest in Bader Field as an event venue, nothing else had been scheduled there as of last week. The city Office of Special Events did not return requests for comment Monday.

The Sandcastle, however, will host AC Summerfest 2011 on Saturday. The event will last just one day instead of three, and Summerfest artists will perform for fans at the 5,000-seat arena, not for the 20,000 to 30,000 people at Bader Field on each day of the Caravan.

Dollars and sense

Dust probably won’t be an issue at the Sandcastle, a structure built to host the Atlantic City Surf minor-league baseball team. But limited access and contractual differences may be.

The city recently spent $300,000 repairing the venue’s mezzanine level from vandalism and neglect sustained since the Surf folded in 2009. Jerkins estimated it would cost another $475,000 to finish the job and bring the kitchens, skyboxes and ground levels up to code.

The city also agreed to cover the costs of police and other public services for the Caravan — a figure not yet calculated — but Summerfest promoter Angel Rock Music will pay those expenses at the Sandcastle.

Police estimated total attendance for all three days of the Caravan at 70,000 people. Representatives for promoter Starr Hill Presents did not return calls or emails seeking confirmation of those numbers Monday.

The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority also did not respond to requests for comment on numbers or other details Monday.

ACCVA staff previously projected the event would generate $27 million if it attracted 85,000 fans — far below the 225,000 people and $70 million initially estimated.

Starr Hill leased Bader Field for $200,000 but did not pay for police and other city resources required to ensure the concert went safely and smoothly, the contract shows.

That agreement was a departure from the city’s typical practice of making private companies pay for extra police details they might want or need. That’s because the city owns Bader Field, so it has more exposure to liability, solicitor Ward said.

“As the attendance was scaled back from the 75,000 to a lower number, then there was also a backdown in the number of personnel that would be committed, so all in all, the city is satisfied,” Ward said.

Having private, for-profit event promoters foot the bill for public services is a best practice nationwide, says Leonard Matarese, director of research for the International City/County Management Association’s Center for Public Safety management

“With a for-profit event where the city has to deploy additional resources, it costs taxpayers money. The argument could be made that having program brings people in, generates tax revenues,” Matarese said. “There are different models, but the question becomes, at what level does the local government subsidize for-profit enterprise?”

City Council, meanwhile, is working on an ordinance to formalize rates for special-event leases at the Sandcastle, City Councilman Steve Moore said.

They likely will do the same for Bader Field, he said.

“We have to meet to go over what it is, what it could be, what it should be, what it will be,” Moore said.

And the city’s post-Caravan meeting will include discussions about formalizing the application, planning and execution policies for prospective event promoters, Foley said.

“Without a doubt, we will be getting together with (the Special Events) office and be making that suggestion on a package to put together and maybe something electronic,” Foley said. “It makes our life a lot easier if we all follow the same scripts.”

Staff Writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.

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360 From DMB Caravan Festival

Click image to view the DMB Caravan Festival at Bader Field in Atalntic City
Photograph by Vernon Ogrodnek


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