City Puts ‘Waterfalls’ Impact at $69 Million

October 22, 2008 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

Olafur Eliasson’s “Waterfalls,” which graced the East River from June 26 to Oct. 13, generated an estimated economic impact of $69 million, exceeding the initial estimate of $55 million, the Bloomberg administration announced on Tuesday. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the first deputy mayor, Patricia E. Harris, provided a breakdown of the estimated impact, which included the costs of the exhibition:

$15.5 million in direct spending on the exhibition’s total presentation, including building materials, construction, operation, disassembly and promotional and educational materials. An estimated $26.3 million in incremental spending by the 1.4 million visitors to the show. An estimated $26.8 million in “indirect spending from these expenditures.” The work, commissioned by the Public Art Fund and presented in collaboration with the city, was the city’s most ambitious public art project since “The Gates,” the February 2005 installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who festooned Central Park with saffron-colored fabric.

And yet, the “Waterfalls” were not unquestionably good.

Salty mist from the four giant water-pumping contraptions wreaked havoc on trees and other plants at the River Cafe on Water Street and along the Promenade in Brooklyn. Soil samples collected by the city’s oldest and largest neighborhood association, the Brooklyn Heights Association, to a laboratory at Cornell University showed high levels of salt in the soil.

“We always knew the Waterfalls was going to reinvigorate our City’s waterfront — but its actual impact has exceeded our expectations,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference at the Public School 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens, where he was joined by other officials and by Klaus Biesenbach, chief curatorial adviser at P.S. 1. “People didn’t buy tickets or pass through a turnstile to experience the Waterfalls, but this exhibition brought people to areas of the city they might not otherwise ever have visited. We’ve always understood that we have to encourage big, bold projects that set our City apart, and this will be increasingly important while areas of our economy are struggling from the turmoil on Wall Street.”

The city’s Economic Development Corporation commissioned the economic study from the consulting company Appleseed and the market research company Audience Research and Analysis. The latter company conducted visitor counts and surveys at seven vantage points around the “Waterfalls.”

The city described other economic findings in a news release:

“Waterfalls” visitors saw the exhibition from an average of 2.6 sites around New York Harbor’s waterfront. Hundreds of thousands of others viewed the Waterfalls during their daily commutes or as part of other routine activities. Of these 1.4 million “Waterfalls” viewers, about 79,200 were visitors to the City who, were it not for the Waterfalls, would not have visited or extended their visit to New York. About 590,000 visitors came to the city from elsewhere in the metropolitan area, from communities across the U.S. and from at least 55 other countries. According to the report, 15 percent of “Waterfalls” viewers who stayed in a hotel chose a hotel in Lower Manhattan. Less than 7 percent of New York City’s hotel rooms are in Lower Manhattan, suggesting that those visitors disproportionately chose Lower Manhattan hotels over others in the city.

Over all, according to the survey, 23 percent of Waterfalls viewers – more than 320,000 people – made their first trip to the Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn waterfront to see the Waterfalls. According to the survey, 44,500 New Yorkers made their first trip to the Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn waterfront to see the Waterfalls.

P.S. 1, which hosted a retrospective of Mr. Eliasson’s work, “Take Your Time,” that closed in June, saw record-breaking attendance figures, and the Bloomberg administration said the art installation had ripple effects on other cultural institutions:

About 95 percent of all out-of-town “Waterfalls” viewers participated in at least one other cultural attraction during their stay. About 43 percent of visitors attended one or more Broadway shows; 42 percent attended a visual art, photography, or design museum; 34 percent visited a history museum; and nearly 27 percent viewed a public art installation other than the “Waterfalls.”

The city also described positive impacts on the ferry business:

More than any other business, ferry and tour boat operators benefited from the Waterfalls. Through much of the summer, Circle Line Downtown offered between 25 and 30 tours a day, with sell-outs on many tours, particularly during its evening cruises. Between June 26 and October 13, more than 213,000 passengers bought tickets for Circle Line Downtown’s “Waterfalls” tour, Zephyr and Shark boat tours that all went past the Waterfalls. Average weekly ridership on the Zephyr and Shark tours jumped by 123 percent after the Waterfalls began operating. Between June 26 and Oct. 12, 2008, the Governors Island ferry recorded about 100,000 passengers between the Battery Maritime Building and the ferry landing on the Island’s north side, adjacent to one of the “Waterfalls.” About 31 percent of those surveyed on the Governors Island ferry stated that their trip to Governors Island was primarily to see the Waterfalls.

Finally, the study described a surge in Web traffic related to the installation:

Public Art Fund’s official Waterfalls Web site,, received more than 512,000 visits between January and October 2008. The website provided information about the artist and the exhibition, as well as educational materials and a nine-part podcast series with comments by the artist Olafur Eliasson. Many people who attended the “Waterfalls” documented their experiences online, sharing their experience with those who could not see the “Waterfalls” in person, and encouraging some to make a trip to New York City to see the exhibition firsthand. For example: users posted more than 6,000 photographs of the Waterfalls on the photo sharing website Individual and professional bloggers published at least 1,200 blog posts about the exhibition. “Waterfalls” viewers posted more than 200 videos on YouTube, earning more than 235,000 views during the exhibition. Many of these photographs, videos, and blog posts were viewed – and commented on – by others who did not have an opportunity to see the “Waterfalls” in person.

The Waterfalls generated significant media attention from around the world, generating hundreds of articles in media outlets in more than 25 countries. Further, three dedicated international media tours were carried out during the lifespan of the Waterfalls, centered on the project. Domestically, the nation’s highest-rated television and print media reported on the Waterfalls, as did all local and regional press, resulting in more than 500 media clips and countless media impressions.

Is this economic study convincing?

Carol O’Cleireacain, a former New York City budget director and finance commissioner who is an authority on urban economics, said in an interview, “As in many economic models, it all depends on the assumptions you make. If you make generous assumptions, you’ll come up with generous results.”

Dr. O’Cleireacain, who was not involved in the “Waterfalls” study, said it was more reasonable to assume that tourists who were already visiting, or planning to visit, New York City went to see the installation than to assume that the installation itself drew substantial numbers of tourists.

By Sewell Chan, City Room

New York Times


Entry filed under: Get Wet, Manhattan, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , , , , , .

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