Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Winter’s Dream: How $3-million from occupancy tax was spent

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

The Chronicle filed a FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] request to learn how the Warren County Winter Coalition spent $3-million in allocated county occupancy tax to launch Winter’s Dream by Moment Factory at Fort William Henry. It ran from December 8 to March 9.

Some $2,692,658 of the $3-million was disbursed from August through December, as recorded in invoices provided to The Chronicle by Warren County.

That is $307,342 less than the full $3 million. Potentially, additional funds were disbursed after December, but the invoices were not yet available.

Here’s where the payments went:

Moment Factory – Total $1,550,000
$465,000 (August 1, 2023)
$310,000 (August 30, 2023)
$310,000 (September 28, 2023)
$310,000 (November 17, 2023)
$155,000 (December 14, 2023)
This represents the agreed-upon fee to Moment Factory, the attraction’s Montreal- based creator.

Subcontractors, equipment – Total: $377,788. Three payments, Oct. 26- Nov. 17, to SoloTech and CR34TE, two subcontactors in Montreal, detailed in invoices as lighting, sound, scaffolding equipment

Fort William Henry – Total $250,000
Note: Three invoiced payments in August, September and October. No word yet on whether any leasing or rental fees were paid November through March.

Mannix Marketing – Total: $201,080.
Remitted in four payments, August 1 to December 14, 2023. How the money was spent wasn’t specified. Some or even much could have gone to purchase advertising (including to The Chronicle). Invoices sent to Warren County did not specify how much was paid to Mannix for their own services or to other media providers.

BBL Construction: $155,347. One payment on Dec. 14, 2023 for installation, carpentry materials, design fees for the “Cabin.”

Americade – Total: $101,920. Several payments from November 27 to Dec. 14 listed for installation costs for the five display areas at Fort William Henry, as well as one $750 invoice for “training
costs.”

Behan Communications – Total $50,000. Payments of $25,000 on Aug. 1 and Dec. 14, 2023, invoiced with specific billable hours for “strategies and services,” including response to news media, correspondence with Moment Factory, marketing conference calls, creating media lists, and $2,000 to Meltwater media relations platform subscription.

Travelers Insurance – $6,523

Behan: We’ll pay the county back & fund future ourselves; cites 5-year plan, progress

The Chronicle posed follow-up questions to several members of the Winter Coalition — Mark Behan, Sam Luciano, Sara Mannix and Christian Dutcher.

Winter Coalition spokesman Mark Behan responded by e-mail.

Mr. Behan said of the nearly $3-million in occupancy tax disbursements, “These are among the many investments that were made to create the first Winter’s Dream experience — to design it, build it, brand it, market it, and staff a start-up attraction that would be innovative, fun and memorable.

“Some of these investments are onetime costs (construction, for instance) and not likely to be repeated. Others are ordinary operating expenses.”

Mr. Behan wrote, “In future years, operating and other costs will be borne by the non-profit sponsor, the Warren County Coalition, which will use ticket sales and sponsorship revenue to cover expenses and to reinvest in making Winter’s Dream even more fun.”

He said “the Winter Coalition is already talking to Moment Factory about next year. We will keep you posted.”

“This, as you know, is a five-year project, and the Coalition will take the lessons learned this year to upgrade Winter’s Dream each year going forward.

“The Coalition also remains committed vestment over time.”

“This was truly a public-private partnership that involved the hospitality community broadly.”

Mr. Behan added, “Fort William Henry invested $844,000 to accommodate Winter’s Dream and make the attraction more accessible.

He said, “The Caldwell House provided carriage rides at Winter’s Dream.

“Giuseppe’s Pizzeria handled food service inside the Fort. The Crocitto family provided thousands of hours of volunteer support. Fort William Henry employees provided security. Sara Mannix and Christian Dutcher both provided thousands of dollars in unpaid professional services and support to make the attraction a success.

“While we would have preferred less rain and more snow, we were pleased to have brought nearly 28,000 people to Lake George, to help our hospitality businesses succeed in an otherwise slow season, to help keep local people employed for more months of the year, to generate more occupancy tax and sales tax for Warren County.”

Mr. Behan noted, “More than 90 percent of Winter’s Dream visitors (95% in January, 96% in February) rated their experience as good or excellent. Winter’s Dream also received broad, very positive media coverage throughout New England and beyond. It succeeded in establishing the Lake George area as a winter destination for fun in the Northeast.”

Winter Coalition: 25,989 tix sold for Winter’s Dream: That’s 23,320 admissions, 2,669 parking

Winter Coalition chair Sam Luciano reported “total ticket sales” of 25,989 when he addressed the March 19 meeting of the Warren County Tourism and Occupancy Tax Committee.

That number includes both admission tickets and parking passes.

Mr. Luciano’s materials showed 23,320 admission tickets were sold.

The breakdown:
Adult: 16,407
Child (ages 4-12): 3,805
Senior (65+): 2,159
Group admission: 539
VIP Flex admission w/parking: 229
VIP Flex admission: 119
Veterans/Active military: 62


Total parking passes sold: 2,669
VIP Reserved lot: 475
Reserved parking: 2,145
Regular parking pass: 49

Mr. Luciano told the committee,
“Even though we were disappointed in the amount of Occupancy Tax we were able to bring in, we did see visitation increase.” He noted that attendance at Sacred Heart Church rose “over that time period” by 13 percent.

“This is a sampling,” and “a preview,” Mr. Luciano told the committee.

He said the Coalition expects to bring an hour-long final report to the County “within a month,” he said, as required in the contract with the County.

— Cathy DeDe
Copyright © 2024 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved

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