Concert-goers will now need tickets to attend two remaining free shows at the racetrack; concert organizers hope the change will help keep traffic manageable.
The traffic jam that nearly shut down Route 96 in Farmington two weeks ago did more than just chafe drivers and challenge law enforcement officers; it also prompted a change in the way event organizers will handle future concerts.
On June 19 an estimated 10,000 or more die-hard fans made it past the gate and into Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack to see 1970s/80s rock band REO Speedwagon knock out their greatest hits. Another 1,000 or more were turned away before they ever heard a note. All of them clogged intersections and wedged their vehicles into spots on roadsides, neighboring lots and residents’ yards.
It turns out that the traffic tangle may have actually been weather-related, according to FLCR Senior Director of Marketing Steve Martin.
“We can comfortably park enough cars to handle 6,000 concert-goers on a wet day,” said Martin. “We would have had space for another 1,500 cars, if the northwest field wasn’t wet. But we had a lot of rain the week before that show.”
Martin said when that space was lost, people had nowhere to park and it triggered the gridlock and traffic problems.
Calling for backup
To help manage the situation, FLCR contracts with Ontario County sheriff’s deputies for summer concerts to direct traffic as it’s entering and exiting from the highways.
According to Sheriff Philip Povero, parking is predominately FLCR’s issue.
“They contracted for four officers,” said Povero. “The officers did what they could to direct people to appropriate parking, but when they arrived the lots were already filled and people were looking to park their cars on their own."
The four veteran officers realized immediately that the traffic was more than expected and called in six additional officers, Povero said.
“They jumped right in and took the bull by the horns,” said Povero. “All told we spent approximately six hours at the racino, with a total of 10 officers before the evening was out.”
The addition cost for backups will be absorbed by FLCR, rather than taxpayers, Povero said.
That’s the ticket
To avoid a repeat performance at the next concert, event organizers at FLCR said fans will now need tickets to get in. Appearances by The Charlie Daniels Band on July 17 and Gretchen Wilson on August 7 will both be free of charge, but tickets will be required at the gate. As of July 2, FLCR reported that all tickets for Charlie Daniels had already been given out and none remained.
“With the recent events that transpired during the last concert, we feel that the ticketing system will enable us to have better control over the events, while also minimizing the impact to the surrounding community,” said FLCR President and General Manager Chris Riegle.
Page 2 of 4 - A total of 6,000 free tickets will be available prior to concerts at “Player Extras,” located on the casino floor at Finger Lakes, or at Entercom Radio — WBEE, WCMF, WBZA, and WPXY — in its High Falls studios and at various remote broadcasts through July 17, Riegle said.
Can FLCR host more than 6,000 concert-goers? Clearly it can, but organizers say it won’t.
Local code allows for 10,000 to attend, including 6,000 seats in the grandstand and the other 4,000 split between a paved “apron” in front and a grass area to the west of the stage, but Martin said he and his staff never want to run into that kind of situation again.
“We regret what happened,” said Martin. “We certainly did not want to cause that much interruption. I think it caught everybody off guard. By putting the whole ticket program in place we can control how many folks we want to have coming. It helps us better prepare for what our staffing needs might be. It also puts a little onus on people to think ahead and get a ticket.”
After the Charlie Daniels Band show, if there are any tweaks or changes Martin wants to make for the Gretchen Wilson show, he can put those into place.
Martin did not expect significant changes to be made in protocol for parking, security or staffing.
“We feel we have the systems in place now to be able to ensure the concerts going forward are as great an experience for everyone as they have been in previous years.”
Assessing the situation
After the concert, Povero reported that the traffic lights on Routes 96 and 332 had worked well — the timing of the lights got vehicles moving, even in the heaviest traffic. He also said additional Thruway toll booth staff had been requested, and received.
The drive home was much easier for drivers and officers, he said.
“An hour and 15 minutes to move that volume of traffic out of there is certainly a testament to the ingenuity and the resourcefulness of the deputies,” said Povero.
A next-day debriefing with FLCR staff was also productive, he said.
“They were very receptive. We discussed the whole evening the following day and we talked about the need to do the best we can to determine what the crowd is going to be,” said Povero. “We told them that our number-one priority is to have highways open in that area for access by emergency vehicles.”
For Farmington Fire Chief Phil Robinson, the traffic jam meant more than just a temporary inconvenience, especially if there had been a fire or a crash at the time of the concert. One of the town’s two fire stations is located directly across from FLCR, and in the thick of the gridlock.
Page 3 of 4 - “There was concern on my part that if we had a major call, Station #2 probably wouldn’t have been involved very well,” said Robinson. “I don’t think the volunteers would have been able to make their way there for approximately an hour and a half. We did have some people at Station #1 and they were available. Thankfully there wasn’t a problem, but I was worried.”
For the new restaurant immediately to the west of FLCR, the traffic jam was pure gold.
“A lot of people who couldn’t get in came over here,” said Eddie O’Brien's owner Ron Cecere. “We probably did an extra 60 to 70 percent from what it usually is on a Wednesday night.”
With a fleet of extra servers, bartenders, bussers and cooks, he felt well prepared and was glad to be a part of the concert.
“We brought on as many as we could and we used every one of them,” said Cecere. “One of my waitresses told me the next day she was very impressed with how well the kitchen did. Everything went well, went out fast, and correctly, and there were no complaints. It was one of our best nights service-wise.”
Across the street, Boom Towne Canine Campus had barricades in front of its spacious parking lot, to make sure there was enough space for patrons.
“Although the traffic was unforeseen for this event, it did cause some disruption for Boom Towne,” General Manager Sarah Smith. “We hold classes throughout the evenings and have parents coming to pick up their dogs from daycare, grooming and our boarding facilities. These customers had a difficult time getting to the facility due to the traffic jam.”
Smith also said many concert-goers had parked illegally along Beaver Creek Road, creating visibility issues for patrons coming and going.
“FLCR is a wonderful neighbor, and I am sure that they are doing everything they can to rectify the issue for the remaining two concerts,” she said.
The Charlie Daniels Band is set to perform on Wednesday, July 17; and Gretchen Wilson will take the stage on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
In a July 2010 concert at FLCR, The Charlie Daniels Band drew a crowd of about 7,500.
“I think it was a perfect storm of events, with the weather,” said Martin. “It was a challenge, but our staff pulled through and they did what they had to do. In a nutshell, I think going to the ticketing protocol is going to prevent issues going forward.”
Guests must be 18 years or older to attend the shows and enter the casino. All concerts will be held outdoors with seating available in the covered grandstand. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for each concert, and opening acts take the stage beginning at 7 p.m. Parking is free; however, tailgating is prohibited. For more information, visit www.fingerlakescasino.com.
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