New York State Fair Gondola

03
May

2017

New York State Fair Gondola — A Public Relations Nightmare

New York State Fair Gondola

Not to get all nit-picky but this is not a gondola. Image via Governors Office

Here’s a question I’d like to know — who did the PR on the New York State Fair Gondola? Was there even anyone? 

Because from this desk, the only public communications I’ve seen thus far has been a rendering presumably hacked together by an intern of the fair with the Roosevelt Island Tram floating overhead — which regular readers of this site know is technically completely inaccurate and probably speaks to the level of detail officials got into when it came to presenting this project to the public. 

(For anyone curious readers, an Aerial Tram and a Gondola are two completely different technologies.)

Industry observers know that this proposal has been working it’s way through the New York State legislature for the last several months and looked to be heading towards realization until it recently got battered in the press for a variety of issues and has been positioned by its opponents as representing an out-of-touch government wasting tax payer dollars. 

That narrative has stuck because there’s been basically no counter-narrative. No economic justification for its existence has been presented.

For the record, we here have no horse in this race, except perhaps as analysts who find it curious that so many current gondola proponents spend so little time crafting the story behind what is oftentimes going to be a very controversial proposal. 

So here’s a few questions that the government could’ve started with and should as this situation develops — 

What are the economics of the gondola? We know that it’s going to cost around $15mm but that’s about it. Is it a profitable investment? If so, could the private sector finance it? 

A system such as this will get excellent financing terms because it’s going to be presumably paid for by the state government. That means low, fixed interest rates; long repayment schedules; and zero equity up front. Those things always help any project’s economics. But what are this project’s economics?  

Is the gondola projected to make money? Given the preferential financials the project will enjoy, isn’t it worth asking that question? 

What’s the fare going to be? How many riders are projected to use it? 

Is this a tourist-oriented ride or is this is a piece of transport infrastructure designed to move people about the site free-from-charge? If it’s the latter, will it cause more visitors to attend the fair? Will it cause more events to be booked at the fairgrounds throughout the rest of the year thereby making the overall site more profitable? 

Will it operate year-round? What are the annual operations & maintenance costs? 

Basically — how is this thing supposed to work?

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. W5+H. It’s that simple. 

Almost none of this has been unpacked publicly. Which, admittedly, suggests that either project economics aren’t actually understood at this time or they are understood and being kept under wraps for reasons unknown. 

The gondola has become a political punching bag and an example of wasteful government spending so much so that officials involved appear to be prepping the ground for delaying the installation under the auspices that other fair expenditures may need to take priority. 

If the system is economically unfeasible, then that may be a deserved fate.

If, however, the gondola is economically self-sustaining and/or provides enough economic spin-off benefits to the fair to justify its existence, then that needs to actually be communicated to the public — because right now that hasn’t been. Opponents of the gondola (or of the project’s main champion, Governor Andrew Cuomo) have been laying into the project like they’re playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! with every cheat code in existence at their disposal. 

Right now the narrative of the gondola is poisonous because no narrative in favour of the gondola even exists. Like any political intervention, a gondola system requires a narrative that positions it in the public’s eye in a positive light. People aren’t just going to like it because it’s a gondola even though that seems to be the default position of many gondola project proponents nowadays. 

That’s completely the wrong position to take. In fact, by virtue simply of being a gondola there will be one contingent of people who will actively dislike it because it’s bizarre and another contingent who will see the bizarreness of the technology as a means to opportunistically win political points at the expense of the proponent whether they agree with the given project or not. 

Right now somewhere in New York, someone’s PR person is in all kinds of trouble. 



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