Who at City Hall knew what when? | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Who at City Hall knew what when?

Ticket sales were low for McCartney; why did officials think other bands would do better?

There are lots of questions in the concert loan scandal that remain unanswered. Here are three: Who in City Hall knew of the abysmally low ticket sales numbers for the Common concerts, When did they know it, and Why, with that knowledge in hand, did they keep booking shows on the Common?

Some background: Scott Ferguson, president at Trade Centre Limited, tells me that he fully informed city officials about ticket sales figures for all the Common concerts. I believe him. But here's the city's policy on concerts, as adopted by council on March 6, 2007 (pg. 7):

We now know that ticket sales for the 2008 Keith Urban show, held on the Common, were just 11,853. OK, maybe we can cut officials some slack: We don't yet know how many people paid to go to 2006 Rolling Stones show---this is a state secret, for some reason, but I've put in a Freedom of Information Act request for that number. In any event, published accounts say 50,000 or more people went to the Stones. As events have proven, these published numbers are often bullshit, but let's say that many people did attend. Pretty amazing, and maybe day-of-show sales would've been even higher had it not been raining. So, it's at least within the realm of sanity to think that Keith Urban could sell more than the 40,000 tickets required by policy to have the show on the Common.

But only 11,853 showed up for Keith Urban. By policy, the show should've been held at Citadel Hill. And common sense says the Keith Urban numbers should have caused some pause by officialdom, before they booked another show on the Common. Maybe it did. Maybe they thought, "jeesh, these second tier bands like Keith Urban aren't selling the required tickets to hold the shows on the Common, so if we're going to have another one there, it's got to be really big." Sure enough, the next shows on the Common were going to be 2009's Paul McCartney and KISS concerts. Maybe it was realistic to at least hope that they would each sell more than 40,000 tickets so, again, let's cut officialdom some slack.

Of course, the actual shows were failures. Just 26,504 tickets were sold for McCartney, and 21,420 for KISS.

And here's how officials reacted to those low sale figures: they kept them secret. Published reports said more than 50,000 people attended the McCartney show, and 40,000 attended KISS (those numbers are still collected on the Common wiki page) and nobody with knowledge of the real numbers did anything to correct the public impression.

Not only that, they went on to allow two more shows to be booked on the Common---the 2010 "Halifax Rocks" and "Country Rocks" concerts, featuring Black Eyed Peas and Alan Jackson, respectively.

It's true that Halifax Rocks was initially to include a Kid Rock appearance that was cancelled, but after just 26,000 tickets were sold to Paul McCartney, how could anyone in their right mind think that any other concert would be able to sell 40,000 tickets? I simply can't believe that anyone with knowledge of true attendance for past Common concerts could book another show on the Common without completely understanding they were violating council's venue policy.

So again: Who in city hall knew of the abysmally low ticket sales numbers for the Common concerts, When did they know it, and Why, with that knowledge in hand, did they keep booking shows on the Common?

Last week I put those questions to Andrew Whittemore, the city's manager of Community Relations & Cultural Affairs, and the staffer charged with overseeing the Special Events Task Force, which oversees the Common concerts and which made the recommendations that later resulted in council's venue policy.

Whittemore told me that he had been asked the same questions by auditor general Larry Munroe, and that he had signed a confidentiality agreement, so couldn't talk to me about them. But I asked Munroe about that very issue yesterday, and he told me that Whittemore is free to answer anyone's questions---the confidentiality agreement mostly applies to the office of the auditor general, but so far as it applies to people like Whittemore, it's only so far as they don't tell other people what the auditor said. So we're at something of an impasse until Munroe's report on the concert loan scandal comes out later this month.

I have no idea who in city hall had concert attendance figures. I suspect about a half dozen staffers did. I don't think councillors had the numbers, but I think mayor Peter Kelly did. I may have that all wrong, of course.

I should again stress that the concert attendance issue is just one small part of the scandal. The real issue is the money laundered through the Metro Centre, who knew about that, whose responsibility it was and who covered it up.

For myself, I wont' be satisfied with Munroe's coming report unless he names names, details the institutional responsibilities---both at city hall and at Trade Centre Limited---and gives us a thorough explanation of who started the improper loan arrangement and how it evolved.

For The Coast's complete coverage of the Common concert financing scandal, click here.

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