by Joshua Maloni
It appears Lewiston's most influential movers and shakers are not on the same page.
When members of the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, Lewiston Council on the Arts and village business owners gathered Tuesday morning at a Lewiston Advisory Committee meeting to discuss the Art Festival, the Jazz Festival, and festival policy in general, it looked as if the groups were not seeing eye-to-eye.
"Why come to Lewiston when you can't see the businesses?" said George Osborne, Chamber of Commerce board chairman, when the Art Festival tent configuration was brought up. This year, as in 2009, vendors will line Center Street, which will be closed from Fourth to Eighth streets.
Speaking of next weekend's The Art of Ribs - taking place during the Art Festival - Lewiston Tops owner Anthony DiMino said, "Anything that goes into Academy Park adversely affects" his business and that of day-to-day operations (hardware, dry cleaning, etc.). DiMino said his parking lot would be closed to those looking for a parking spot while attending the Art Festival or Peach Festival.
"Where are they going to park 1,000 other cars?" Osborne asked about potential Art of Ribs crowds.
"Art Festival weekend is Art Festival weekend," said LCA Executive Director Irene Rykaszewski, suggesting the Art of Ribs committee could've - or should've - picked an open weekend to hold their event. "(But) they want to piggyback."
One retailer, who asked to remain anonymous, said a customer base divided cannot stand. Referencing the Christmas Walk, which now shares time with the Tour of Homes, this person said, "People aren't going to spend eight hours in Lewiston. It's not going to happen."
With regard to Academy Park, DiMino said, "There's no plan (from the Village Board). There was no plan for the Peach Festival."
Those in the meeting expressed disappointment that the Village Board has not more often consulted the Lewiston Advisory Committee - a group comprised of members of the chamber and business community - when making large decisions (like closing Center Street).
"That's why we're here," said LAC member and Realtor Fred Blue.
"We can serve the village well if they open that door," said LAC member and Artpark Director of Marketing Maureen Kellick.
DiMino said festivals, or any such activity in the village, should benefit everyone, and not just one specific group. "We should be able to co-exist with everyone. Right now, it's not happening that way."
So, where does everyone go from here?
When it comes to festivals and large-scale events, newly elected Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano said he wants to give the Chamber of Commerce and LCA some time to handle their own affairs.
"I don't want to overstep my boundaries," he said Friday.
He knows there is some discontent in the village with regard to the upcoming festivals.
"I know there is some dissatisfaction from some of the businesspeople about Center Street," Collesano said.
He wants the interested and affected parties to coordinate with one another, and he said the Village Board is happy to help.
"If I need to take steps further, I will do so," Collesano said.
Rykaszewski said, "There's a lot of different constituencies (in the village). Everyone has their own interests in mind."
She said that, despite the efforts of the Village Board, the chamber and the LCA, not everyone would ultimately be happy.
"That's life," she said.
On the LCA end, Rykaszewski said, "We're making every effort to keep everyone informed."
As for the retail community, she suggested business owners would be better suited (and more educated on village issues) if they sought out details on their own.
"They also have to make some effort to seek out information," Rykaszewski said.
She noted the Village Board makeup is largely individuals who are new to the festival building and planning process.
"They just came in a few short weeks ago," she said. "There's going to be a learning curve."
"I think we have to kind of be a little patient," Rykaszewski added.
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Lacki said the same thing, and acknowledged Collesano's willingness to let the business community work without unnecessary government interference.
Academy Park/Art of Ribs
Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said he doesn't expect the Art of Ribs to create any traffic or parking problems.
"(It's) in an area away from (the Art Festival)," he said.
"I don't know if it will bring in a lot more people, or the same people," Sutherland added.
"It's a new venue. If it becomes big enough, then they can have their own weekend," he said.
As for Academy Park, in general, Sutherland said, "We've talked about it before. We'd like to see more things at Academy Park."
Some members of the Lewiston Advisory Committee suggested making it more of a passive park, or adding some gardens.
Collesano said the board "likes the openness of the park."
"We'd like to see that park utilized more," he said, noting there isn't a lot of open space in other areas of the village. Gardens, he said, would limit the usable areas of the park.
Moreover, he said the village plans to install a new garden at the soon-to-be-completed Piper Law Office and Welcome Center. Collesano said those floral arrangements would be "beautiful."
The mayor would, however, like to see the Academy Park promenade expanded.
Concerning the closing of Center Street, Collesano said the board consults with the Lewiston Police Department, local fire companies, and the organization making the request.
"We make an executive decision on what's right for businesspeople and residents," he said.
Sutherland said he would like to see more collaboration between those who want to close the street, and those who are affected by such an action.
When it comes time to make decisions affecting the entire village, Collesano said trustees aim to please everyone. However, "It's a very tight rope that we have to walk," he said.
In order to close Center Street, two forms must be completed and approved. The first is a Village of Lewiston facility contract. This form requires information on the date, time and type of event, as well as expected gross, planned use of proceeds, estimated attendance, clean-up procedures and security needs.
The second form is a 15-page, highly detailed state of New York Department of Transportation special use permit application (Center Street is a state roadway).
Both forms are available in the mayor's office, and both must be approved before the board can sign off on closing any portion of Center Street.
Chamber vs. LCA
When Lacki took over as president of the chamber, he said he made a concerted effort to meet with Rykaszewski and the Lewiston Council on the Arts. Unbeknownst to him, the chamber and art council did not always get along.
He's not sure why.
"When you step back a bit ... everyone is trying to do good for the community," Lacki said.
Speaking of the LCA, he said, "They're good people; they have a great product."
He said the same thing about the Peach Festival committee, saying that event "puts a big shine on the community."
The chamber, Lacki said, is doing its best to attract tourists while preventing Lewiston from becoming a "tourist town." He said his group strives to make events comfortable for both guests and residents.
Lacki said any real or perceived fighting between the groups in Lewiston could result in the area picking up a bad reputation in Western New York. That, he said, would be detrimental to the entire community.