The first full concert season at Legacy Park Amphitheater is losing money.
The old saying, “when it rains it pours,” is unfortunately accurate this year — and it’s not helping the situation.
Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation officials were hoping Uncle Kracker, an artist with more contemporary appeal than previous groups, would reverse the trend last weekend.
Instead there was rain Aug. 5 with forecasts for a deluge and flash flooding. The concert was canceled.
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The next concert, Saturday, will feature tribute bands Poison Overdose, Almost KISS and KC/DC.
Attendance has been low at earlier paid-admission shows. In May, only 256 tickets sold for a concert by Motown artists The Drifters, the Coasters and the Platters. In July, 257 tickets to the Georgia Satellites were sold.
The season so far has accumulated a loss of $53,618.
Attendance at the free concerts is lagging historic numbers from when those concerts were held on the City Hall commons downtown.
“It’s been a disappointment,” said Interim Parks Administrator Joe Snook. “Across the board, they’re not performing what we hoped.”
Snook said the department expects the concerts to draw bigger crowds in future years, as more people become aware of the venue. He said talking with other parks departments with outdoor venues, he learned it typically takes two or three years for them to become successful.
He said the amphitheater is a good facility that should become popular as word spreads.
“From performers and people I’ve talked to (at concerts), they love the place. The experience is there,” Snook said.
So far, Flashback to Folk in June, a free concert featuring a Peter, Paul and Mary tribute band, is the only concert to cover costs.
Nearly 500 people attended that event, which drew $11,000 in donations and sponsorships. The department paid $4,500 to the performers and $7,669 in other expenses such as lighting and sound. Vendor fees helped it cover costs.
Nearly 900 attended Jamican Jam, also free. It raised $2,243 from concessions and vendor fees, but it cost a total of $6,980, including $1,800 for local bands. It ran a deficit of $4,737.
The Blues Fest Aug. 4 had better attendance at 1,077, but the parks department hasn’t yet compiled expenses and revenues.
Paid-admission concerts are not faring a well.
Memories of Motown, in May, lost $30,099. The performers were paid $22,500 and total expenses were $38,389.
Georgia Satellite, along with an opening band, cost $10,750 for performers and total expenses were $24,297, for a loss of $19,540.
Uncle Kracker cost $22,500, with $750 for an opening band. The loss is expected to be small, because the department had insurance to cover a rain-out. People who bought advance tickets are getting refunds.
Snook said that weather is a factor in other concerts.
The first event, Celebration of the Arts, was also canceled because of a storm. It was unseasonably cold the night of the Memories of Motown show, and for the evening of the Jamaican Jam, the heat index was over 100 degrees.
“What we’re experiencing is people wait until the last minute to buy tickets because of the weather,” Snook said.
Snook said the financial picture is incomplete because the department expects additional revenue from sponsorships and banner advertising at the amphitheater. Those will be included in the final accounting at the end of the season. The Parks and Recreation Board will get a report and analysis of the amphitheater programming and the staff’s recommendations for improvements.
The problem was briefly discussed at a recent park board meeting, when Snook answered questions about attendance so far.
Marly McMillen, a park board member, asked if the department could book bigger-name entertainers.
Snook said Uncle Kracker, a well known act, was a deal at only $22,500, because the singer was scheduled between other engagements and stopped off in Lee’s Summit while traveling.
A higher paid group or solo artists would mean more risk for the department, Snook said, noting that artists are paid regardless of ticket sales.
It would also mean higher ticket prices which also limit sales.
The staff will make its recommendations and the park board will need to decide on ways to adjust the program.
In past years, revenues for the downtown concert series, which are supported by sponsorships, have fluctuated, Snook said.
Each of those free concerts cost an average of $10,000 each.
Some years, the costs are fully covered by sponsorships, but several had shortfalls during recession years after 2008. The park board decided to subsidize them with other park revenue because of their value to the community, Snook said.
Snook said the department decided to move the free concerts to Legacy Park because the amphitheater had the advantages of a permanent stage, fencing and restrooms.
He said the department expected attendance for the free concerts to fall off some with the move, but he believes it will rebound as people realize that Legacy Park is not a far drive.
He said that the recent Blues Fest was encouraging, breaking 1,000 with its audience. In the past, the event drew crowds of more than 2,000 when downtown.
Still, Snook was pleased with this year’s attendance.
“It was well attended and a beautiful night,” Snook said. “I was pretty happy.”
Monsters of Mock at Legacy Park
Tribute bands Poison Overdose, Almost KISS and KC/DC join forces for an Aug. 12 concert at Legacy Park Amphitheater, next to the community center at 897 N.E. Bluestem Drive. Gates open at 5 p.m, with concert beginning at 7 p.m. Presale tickets are $10 at rocktheamp.net or by calling 816-969-1500 or can be purchased at the door for $15 the night of the show.