James LeBeau, director of Frontier Field, riffles through his desk, opening and closing drawers.
He is looking for a copy of his resume, a search for which he several times has interrupted a 1/ -hour, high-energy monologue in which he has spun a convincing picture of an entertainment mecca rising in downtown Rochester.
“I’m not a detail man,” he explains, dismissing the resume quest with a not-to-worry shrug.
The confession, associates say, could be described as a gross understatement. Those who know him best say LeBeau is not merely careless of details, but heedless of them as well.
LeBeau, 43, is a former Eastman Kodak Co. corporate real estate official, onetime manager of the Pioneer Development Co.’s Canal Ponds Business Park and a part-time concert and events promoter. In the past year or so he has emerged as a sort of Harold Hill to Rochester’s River City, a man with a plan for a forgotten corner of downtown.
Admirers describe LeBeau as a visionary whose apparent inability to cope with small-picture details such as the exact location of his own resume is more than compensated for by his grasp of the big picture.
“Jim is a macro person. He doesn’t get down to minutiae. Don’t expect him to spell out the nuts and bolts, but he’ll darn well have the organization in place that will,” says John Englert, a Kodak corporate real estate official who worked with LeBeau for roughly a decade.
Indeed, a faxed copy of LeBeau’s resume was waiting at the Rochester Business Journal office following the interview for this profile.
Nevertheless, some detractors fear, LeBeau could be leading Rochester economic development officials down a garden path.
His downtown promoter role is only partially a function of the stadium directorship. LeBeau holds the stadium position under a contract with the Greater Rochester Outdoor Facilities Corp., a non-profit firm created by the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency to oversee Frontier Field.
The contract gives LeBeau’s for-profit promotions company, Beau Productions Inc., a one-year shot at managing the stadium.
As stadium director, LeBeau’s immediate task is to oversee construction and to make sure some 30 luxury sky-box suites find tenants. Later, he is supposed to line up a schedule of concerts and other events to fill spots amid Rochester Red Wings and soccer games.
At the same time, LeBeau has been a spark plug in the city’s efforts to develop a High Falls entertainment district.
The two sites sit nearly adjacent, with the stadium at Platt Street and Plymouth Avenue a block away from the High Falls-Brown’s Race area.
Jeffrey Carlson, Rochester deputy mayor, says in all likelihood he will recommend that High Falls management also be contracted to Beau Productions, making LeBeau a sort of Rochester entertainment czar.
During the 1980s, Rochester pumped $25 million into High Falls to create an urban cultural park from what had been a back-alley collection of decaying warehouses and factories overlooking the downtown waterfall that powered much of Rochester’s early industry.
High Falls now sports a museum, banquet facility and parking garage. The city plans to relocate its Festival Tent to a building called the Trolley Barn at High Falls.
But the cultural park, which was expected to spur private investment, so far has cost Rochester $1 million a year in upkeep.
The entertainment district is supposed to attract a mix of clubs and restaurants, which, coupled with city-sponsored special events, will turn the area into a moneymaker or at least less of a loser.
To Carlson, LeBeau is a “rainmaker” with the entertainment connections and the real estate know-how to pull it off.
Carlson says he and LeBeau first met when LeBeau attended High Falls Committee meetings as a stadium representative 18 months ago. Last year, LeBeau served as a liaison in stillborn negotiations to have Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly put a restaurant at High Falls.
LeBeau says Kelly decided the area lacked focus.
But Carlson says he liked what he saw of LeBeau.
Likewise confident in LeBeau is Rochester Downtown Development Corp. executive director Robert Lee, who arranged for LeBeau to keynote RDDC’s annual meeting with a High Falls presentation that for the most part wowed an audience of the city’s business and political elite.
Among a less-impressed minority were two at-large Democratic members of the City Council: Brian Curran and Michael Fernandez. Both remain skeptical, sensing a triumph of style over substance in LeBeau’s presentation.
Several times the pair have counseled caution, expressing fears that LeBeau will beguile the city into propping up restaurateurs and club owners with subsidies while High Falls continues to fizzle.
“It was a great sales presentation, but I didn’t see anything else there,” Curran said after the RDDC event.
Curran and Fernandez were sole dissenters last month when the council voted 7-2 to authorize a $68,000 High Falls marketing study.
Such doubts notwithstanding, LeBeau says, he and Jeffrey Springut, proprietor of the Creek in Henrietta, have lined up Rochester and out-of-town investors ready to move into High Falls when the time is right.
“The dollars are there,” Carlson says. “Jimmy’s got the contacts. He gets things done.”
Completion of the marketing study, some determination of the fire-wracked Gorsline Building’s fate and relocation of the Festival Tent to High Falls are the only details to be worked out before the investors LeBeau has on the string move in, he believes.
Curran’s and Fernandez’s scruples are understandable, Englert says. Watching LeBeau in action can be like watching a high-wire act.
LeBeau’s wife, Susan, concurs.
“He drives me nuts,” she says. “It’s not just that he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. I sometimes wonder how he sleeps at night.”
Her husband of 13 years “doesn’t see limits like normal people,” she adds. “He can be up to his eyebrows in events, and it doesn’t bother him. But he’s very lucky. Somehow he always lands on his feet, and I’ve learned to trust that.”
The couple–parents of a son, 11, and a daughter, 13–met while both worked at Kodak. They are partners in Beau Productions, launched in 1982.
The promotion firm’s major credit is the Lilac Festival, which it has run for several years, bringing the Highland Park event out of the red to a small profit in three seasons. It also has produced several rodeos and country-music concerts, bringing stars such as Johnny Paycheck to Rochester.
The business began as a hobby, LeBeau says, “a fun way to make money.”
The couple produced their first event after Susan LeBeau, who then worked in Kodak’s human resources department, volunteered for the Rochester Downtown Promotions Council as a Kodak representative.
One of Beau Productions’ early events –a party to promote a much-hyped renovation of the Powers Building by a supposed developer named Thomas Termotto –turned into one of Rochester’s most memorable scandals.
The 1986 party in the Powers Building penthouse gallery was intended to be one of the greatest galas the city had ever seen. But days after Termotto had persuaded virtually every big-name artist in Rochester to lend works to serve as backdrops for the event, he fled to Europe amid allegations he had double-dipped bank accounts and fleeced investors.
Termotto eventually returned to face a prison term.
Beau Productions, meanwhile, possibly alone among those who dealt with Termotto, got paid.
The fiasco was an example of her husband’s uncanny ability to walk blindfolded off a cliff and come up unhurt, Susan LeBeau says.
Indeed, she adds, LeBeau’s decisions to quit a secure Kodak job and jump to Pioneer in 1992 and his subsequent move from Pioneer to the stadium job in July both were calculated leaps of faith.
LeBeau had worked at Kodak 13 years, when he left for Pioneer. He was a star of the corporate real estate department, which he helped found, Englert recalls.
A Rochester native, LeBeau graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School in 1970.
Under prodding from his father, a former vice president of Farash Construction Co., he studied civil engineering at the Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1974.
Although he now resembles a slimmer version of “Cheers” star George Wendt, LeBeau was a high school athlete and attended the school on a partial soccer scholarship.
After graduation, LeBeau worked briefly for a Boston engineering firm, but again at his father’s urging applied to Kodak.
He started in Kodak’s property development department in 1974. By 1984, he had progressed to international project manager, and for most of that year oversaw construction projects in South America, Africa and the Middle East.
From that job, he moved to construction oversight jobs in Rochester, and became a department manager in Kodak’s construction division in 1986.
A year later, LeBeau helped set up the firm’s corporate real estate division, creating a property management department.
While working at Kodak, he also attended the University of Rochester’s William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration, earning an MBA in 1981.
LeBeau describes his jump to Pioneer in 1992 as a logical extension of his Kodak career. It was time to make a change, he says.
In fact, LeBeau’s primary responsibility at Pioneer was development of the Canal Ponds Business Park, a 305-acre joint venture with Kodak.
Ironically, it was through Canal Ponds, which was briefly touted as a stadium site, that LeBeau made his first connection with Frontier Field.
The decision to leave Pioneer in July came after the firm asked him to relocate to Syracuse, where it is headquartered, so he could focus on national accounts, he says.
The Syracuse job would have meant more money–in fact, “a lot more,” says Susan LeBeau wistfully. But the couple decided they preferred to take their chances here.
And while LeBeau’s ultimate success in his new incarnation might seem iffy, she believes he will land on his feet once again.
To the uninitiated, LeBeau can appear to be hopelessly disorganized, he says. But part of LeBeau’s genius is a talent for lining up the talent that can carry his ideas through.
Indeed, Susan LeBeau says, her husband has put together such an organization at Beau Productions, assembling a core staff that will let him keep his head in the clouds and their feet on the ground.
Says Englert: “Jim will deliver. I know it. I’ve seen him deliver.”
Event manager and Frontier Field director
James LeBeau, director of Frontier Field, riffles through his desk, opening and closing drawers.