by Terry Duffy
"I've always tried to be proactive instead of reactive," said Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter as he opened discussions with area stakeholders Thursday on the issue of Lewiston's increasingly popular summer festivals and concerts and their impacts.
Organized by Reiter primarily in response to the burdens placed on the Lewiston Police Department, namely the strains of handling increased traffic and law enforcement responsibilities from hundreds of thousands of visitors during the busy summer months, the session was both informative and constructive. Reiter opened the meeting by telling attendees numbering roughly two dozen and comprised of the Niagara River Region Chamber, Artpark, the Lewiston Council on the Arts, Village of Lewiston officials and various business and community members what they already knew -- Lewiston has become a very, very popular summertime destination: it's now time to get a handle on better managing its success.
"People have worked so hard to make this a success; it would be real unfortunate if situations such as this aren't addressed," Reiter continued.
Issues discussed were wide-ranging, but on the whole centered on the problems of heavy traffic, contending with throngs of visitors, and the resulting security concerns and quality of life issues for residents and businesses of the village.
Reiter for example, said overall he was very impressed with Artpark Tuesdays. But, he also sounded problems. Included were unfavorable comments relayed to him by outside visitors of encountering traffic nightmares, behavioral issues of concertgoers, plus his own logistical concerns of having thousands of visitors contained in one setting. "I attended Tuesdays for the first time this year. I was impressed. But you've got to consider if something should happen there, how would we handle it."
Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano said he and village trustees have been "working in the right direction" with Artpark on these issues. For example, he and Village Trustee Bruce Sutherland told of recent meetings with Artpark, the Lewiston Police, Niagara County Sheriff's Department, Wendel Engineering, Buffalo area traffic consultants, and others, all intended to develop better crowd and traffic control solutions.
Traffic-wise, the options discussed were wide ranging. They included: exploring alternative exit routes on River Road to alleviate Center Street congestion and expedite traffic flows, the greater use of auxiliary traffic patrols, redefining of the Portage Road exit areas at Artpark, the positives and negatives of creating a dedicated exit at Seneca Street onto the Robert Moses Parkway, even the idea of creating a dedicated exit up the hill bordering the river, running under the Lewiston-Queenston bridge and directly to the New York State Thruway. "If we can improve the exits we can improve the traffic flows," commented Town Councilman and former LPD Chief Ron Winkley.
Of the Seneca Street option, an idea floated around for some time, Artpark's Chris Brown suggested it could be part of the solution. "We don't see it as an end-all, but traffic from Center Street could be addressed."
Quality of life issues of residents were also heard. Artpark neighbor Laura Luther complained of backyard tailgaters starting at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays. "We have a village that promotes concerts," she said, telling the group she felt Lewiston was "getting like Darien Lake."
"This is not what I want in living here," Luther said. She also told of contending with drinking and marijuana use from concertgoers and complained, "Tuesday nights are getting out of control."
"Is there going to be a top to this?" asked North Eighth Street resident Martha Rajeck. The woman spoke of her family's concerns of safety and access as well as the inconvenience of contending with concert and festival crowds of 30,000 or more.
Businessman Anthony DiMino, owner of Lewiston Tops said that with "any festival," specifically mentioning the recent Rib Fest and the Lewiston Kiwanis Peach Festival, "we have endless complaints.
"This disrupts so much of the village on this end; it's worse than Tuesday at the Park," said DiMino. He went on to relate one instance of a customer encountering a 20-minute traffic tie-up in a drive from Tops to the CVS store on North Eighth Street. "Parking needs to be addressed," said DiMino. "Businesses (at times) feel like they're closed, it's so congested."
Discussions went back and forth from complaints to exploring solutions, with ideas centering on improving traffic flow and better parking options. Included were greater utilizing of the Artpark plateau area, designating better off-street alternatives, and offering improved handicapped parking and access options for residents and visitors.
The Seneca Street exit idea was again discussed, with Artpark's Brown sounding optimistic. "We hope this could be part of the solution. It's not the total solution. Artpark is sympathetic to these issues. We're trying to get it resolved, whatever we can do, we'll do."
Brown said Artpark meanwhile is also developing a plan intended to better contain and control the amphitheater crowds and the traffic in the future. "We'll do what we can to get it resolved."
Overall, Brown's comments, plus those of others, appeared to set a tone of cooperation developing towards solutions in future discussions as the nearly hour-long session began to wind down.
"We're working on more direct parking to help the handicapped," commented Lewiston Jazz Festival spokesperson Sandy Hays Mies to those concerns.
"We've added more parking for the Peach Festival this year," said Lewiston Kiwanis Peach Festival organizer and Village Trustee Ernie Krell. "And we'll be doing (it from) now on."
"We're more than willing to work with the parties to resolve these problems," said Reiter to the group, as he conveyed the town's intent to work ahead. "Not trying to be defensive here, but you heard it ... there's been some complaints."But "We have a very good group here, a lot of talents," Reiter told the stakeholders. Inviting all to continue providing their input in coming weeks, he suggested an October meeting to continue fruitful discussion. "This is an important first start. We need to follow through," Reiter said in closing.