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Money in the Mist
October 22nd, 2008

Love it or loathe it, Olafur Eliasson’s New York City Waterfalls apparently provided a boost to the city in these tough economic times. According to a report issued by the city yesterday, the controversial art installation generated $69 million for the city economy.

Seems a lot for a project that, as Daily Intel put it, “Mostly just made you go, ‘Oh yeah, the waterfalls,’ when you happened to pass by a spot where you could see them.”

So how did they come up with that figure?

Some of it’s pretty straightforward. For example, it cost about $15.5 million to build and install the project.

But then it all gets a lot murkier, as the report credits $26.3 million in what it calls “incremental spending” to the project. Much of this purportedly was spent by people who saw The Waterfalls and then did something else in the city — money the report, citing surveys of tourists and New Yorkers, maintains they might not have spent otherwise. And all that money in turn spun out an additional $26.8 million

Anyone who saw the falls this summer can look at their own experiences and see how squishy these numbers are. For example in June, my father, who was visiting from Maryland, my husband, my son and I went from our home in Flatbush, to dinner in Carroll Gardens and then to Brooklyn Bridge Park where we looked at the waterfalls and had ice cream cones.

What’s the incremental spending here? Would my father have visited without the art? (Yes.) Would we have gone out to eat Cuban food? (Probably.) Without The Waterfalls would we have gone to Brooklyn Bridge Park and bought ice cream. (Probably not.) Would we have had dessert? (Probably.) Would it have cost more or less somewhere else. (No way to tell.) Would we have gone somewhere else after eating? (Probably.) Would it have been a cheaper or more lavish form of entertainment? (Who knows?)

As Carol O’Cleireacain, a former New York City finance commissioner, said when the Times asked her about the report, “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.” She went on to say that it was more likely that tourists already in New York City went to see the installation than that the installation drew those tourists here in the first place.

But, hey, we want to help the city drive up its numbers. So here are some things we could not find in the report: the economic impact of the money spent to take care of trees and other plants damaged by the salty mist from the Waterfalls; and the money the city gave Appleseed and Audience Research & Analysis to prepare a 28-page lavishly illustrated full color report on what a big success the project was.

By on October 22, 2008, 1:39 pm
In category: Arts,Economy,Gotham City,Parks,Public Finance | No Comments »

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