Dalai Lama organizers pay off debt

Bronfman sisters honored contract even though earlier event had been scratched

Albany Times-Union/May 9, 2009

Albany - Organizers have made good on a $20,000 debt owed the Times Union Center after canceling the Dalai Lama's appearance there last month, an arena official said.

Under terms of a contract signed by the center and Clare Bronfman, a co-founder of the World Ethical Foundations Consortium, which sponsored the spiritual leader, advance payments of $20,000 went toward rent of the facility and other expenses, Times Union Center General Manager Bob Belber said this week.

"It was not the total cost, but advance payments ... and those are non-refundable deposits," Belber said. "Because, if inside a 10-day window there's a cancellation, the building can't use that date."

The Dalai Lama was to appear at the 17,500-seat center on April 19. Ticket sales lagged, and the sponsors canceled the event April 6 amid negative publicity connected to the organization.

As it turned out, "a concert promoter had asked about that date" and was told it was booked and the arena had a signed license agreement, Belber said.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual and secular leader of Tibet, appeared Wednesday at the Palace Theatre, a smaller venue of about 3,000 seats. Clare and Sara Bronfman, Seagram's liquor heiresses, worked to re-schedule the spiritual leader's visit to Albany after the failed Times Union event.

In response to a question submitted by a member of the audience Wednesday, the Dalai Lama said his people investigated the allegations made against the World Ethical Foundations Consortium and its link to NXIVM, a locally based organization that conducts person-growth training courses, and found it to be an ethical group. And, he said, he supports organizations that promote ethics.

At the end of his talk, Clare Bronfman announced to the audience that revenues for the event totaled $140,821 and costs were $283,570, so the consortium was out $142,749.

More than once, Bronfman apologized to the Dalai Lama, saying it wasn't good news, "in that I don't have any money to send home," referring to donations to the Dalai Lama's causes. "I apologize we have no gifts in that way," she said.

Palace marketing manager Sean Allen said Friday several of those in attendance asked on their way out about the public financial accounting.

Tenzin Dickyi, a special assistant to the representative of the Dalai Lama in the New York-based Office of Tibet, said a financial accounting of event revenues and costs customarily is announced at the conclusion of the Dalai Lama's speaking appearances. The Dalai Lama requests this, she said, for transparency.

"Events are not held to make money or profit, and usually the accounts balance," she said. "Sometimes, the outgoing expenses are greater than the money that comes in."

Clare Bronfman told the audience she and her sister would make up the deficit. The Dalai Lama downplayed the talk of finances, saying he didn't want money for public talks.

Allen said 2,391 tickets were sold at the Palace. Ticket prices were $55 and $85. Between 550 and 600 were $55 seats, Allen said. If the figure for $55 seats is put at 575, revenues would have been about $186,000, including the $85 tickets.

Peter Lesser, executive director of The Egg, said 213 tickets were sold at $18 each for the simulcast of the talk. Sixteen guests of the Bronfmans attended, for which there was no charge. At $18 a head, revenue from tickets at The Egg would come to $3,834.

Total ticket sale revenues, including tickets sold at The Egg, would have come to about $190,000. That doesn't include Palace tickets the Bronfmans bought for guests, which could account for the discrepancy.

The organizers were also responsible for overtime costs of Albany police officers assigned to a security detail inside and outside the Palace. Police spokesman Detective James Miller said overtime for three uniformed officers and four detectives came to $1,500.

The cost to rent the Palace for a typical event is $3,500, according to general manager Chris Gould. He declined to say how much it cost the Dalai Lama organizers to rent the Palace.

The $20,000 advance for the much larger Times Union Center was an estimate of a total cost of $75,000 for the organizers had the event taken place there. That included the lease of the 19-year-old building, stagehand labor, box office workers, setting up chairs on the floor, and lights and audio, Belber said. Remaining expenses would have been covered by ticket sales, which ran from $52 to $112.

The arena would have realized a profit and as would have the sponsoring organization, Belber said. As it turned out, the center netted a small profit from the up-front money, "slightly more than $5,000," he said.

That advance money covered expenses related to a news conference in front of the Times Union Center on South Pearl Street announcing the event, as well as the cost related to the refunding of tickets. "The time working on a canceled event is time charged to that event," Belber said.

Bronfman, on behalf of the organization, paid $5,000 up front and the remaining $15,000 after the cancellation, he said. "They honored the commitment," Belber said. "They were required to pay the $15,000 and they did pay it. I have a lot of respect for them in honoring the contract terms."

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