Volume 23, Number 10 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 16 - 22, 2010

Downtown Express photo by John Bayles

General Growth Properties has come up with a plan to ensure another riot does not break out at the free Seaport concerts. Above, is the aftermath of the cancelled Drake show last month.

After Drake riot, GGP says problem solved, new procedures in place

BY Ellen Keohane

Free concerts will continue at the South Street Seaport pier—but with some necessary changes in light of the riot that erupted when organizers pulled the plug on a scheduled show by Canadian rapper Drake on June 15.

At a Community Board 1 Seaport Civic Center Committee meeting on Tuesday, Janell Vaughan, senior general manager at General Growth Properties, which owns the Seaport mall, apologized for the chaos following the canceled concert. Vaughan said she felt “horrified by the events of the evening.”

John Fratta, a community board member and chair of the committee, downplayed the incident. A small number of people participated in the violence that took place, he said.

“I don’t believe it was that serious,” added Peter Glazier, another community board member.

The major issue on June 15 was overcrowding, Vaughan explained. Contrary to some newspaper reports, there were not 20,000 people at the Drake show, she said. Still, the crowd had been larger than expected.

Lincoln Palsgrove, senior marketing manager at General Growth, said they hired an architect after the Drake show to vet the space and provide a better crowd estimate.

“Our estimate is close to 10,000,” he said, adding that the architect included the decks as well as the pier in the evaluation.

The organizers had anticipated an audience of 6,000 to 7,000 people.

Since then, General Growth has established a revised plan for crowd control, which it tested during a free show by the Old 97s on July 4 at the same pier, Vaughan said. She described the alt-country band as “big name talent” and added that the show went “very well.”

Organizers revised the barricade layout and established a system for counting people with clickers to make sure that crowds did not exceed the capacity for the space. In addition, she said they reinforced the fire lane and also placed more guards along the lane.

“Should people need to leave, they can do so safely,” she said of the redesign, which will be used moving forward.

Vaughan said the New York City Police Department had also been of “huge assistance.” The police have more resources and intelligence on performers and can better evaluate the “buzz” of a show and anticipate the type of crowd it would attract, she added.

Glazier asked if organizers had considered issuing tickets to the free shows to control crowd size.

Even with free ticketing, people would still hang around outside the venue, said Chris Amundson, associate marketing manager at General Growth. The pier has so many access points, he added. Amundson argued that ticketing would require organizers to “pen people in.” In contrast, the changes implemented at the Old 97s concert provide an egress where people can come in and out, he said. “We can monitor the flow,” he said.

Vaughan placed some of the blame on social media for the chaos.

“Drake sent out a tweet that he wouldn’t appear,” she said.

Paper Magazine, which sponsored the Drake show, promoted it only to readers a short time before the event, Palsgrove said. However, news of the concert quickly spread via social media and the “talent” also announced the show at several appearances, including one in Union Square, prior to the show. Eventually, the news hit the radio waves, resulting in a “flash mob of people that descended” on the Seaport, he said.

In addition to Drake, Hanson had also been scheduled to play the free show in June. A tweet posted by a member of the pop rock band can still be found online: “Had to cancel the free NYC show today because of a crazy audience…”

Paul Hovitz, another C.B. 1 member, stressed that the kind of fans a given performer attracts needs to be taken into consideration before organizers book an artist at the Seaport. Several committee members asked if they could review the list of performers in advance.

General Growth agreed to provide C.B.1 with a preview of next year’s summer concert line-up in the spring. Vaughan indicated that General Growth tends to book quite a few shows by Indie groups in contrast to hip-hop musicians like Drake. “They draw a nice, reasonable crowd,” she said.

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