by Joshua Maloni
After listening to a trio of concerned residents -- and the unease of his own board -- Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano pledged Monday to reduce the size and scale of Artpark & Co. concerts next summer.
"Next year, I guarantee you we won't have the same problems we had this year, because we're putting our foot down; we're saying that's it," he said.
On two consecutive weeks (July 26 and Aug. 2), Artpark's "Tuesday in the Park" crowd size equaled and then slightly surpassed 30,000. Collesano said such an influx of people over the course of a few hours is beyond what the village can sufficiently handle - both in terms of safety and transportation.
"At this point, we can't control it," he said.
The solution, Collesano proposed, is to lessen the multitude.
"A good number -- I would say a perfect number in that park -- would be 10,000. Maybe 15,000 max. That would be high; that would be on the high side. Anything over that is a problem," he said.
The difficulty, however, is, "We can't control how many people come into the village," Collesano said.
Artpark & Co. President George Osborne said the same thing following the two attendance record-breaking concerts. But, he noted, the venue could add fences and cap the audience number after the outdoor amphitheater is remodeled this winter. He also suggested the free "Tuesday in the Park" concerts might not be free in the future, thus becoming ticketed events.
"Artpark leadership, State Parks leadership, and State Park Police are all working to create an improved atmosphere around Artpark major events, and we all believe that we have made significant strides this year," Osborne said on Thursday. "Two big concerts should not be allowed to undo all of the good we have done."
Collesano said he would speak with State Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblyman John Ceretto about additional preventative measures. The mayor said village trustees and members of Artpark's staff and board of directors meet each Thursday to assess the week's concert(s) and come up with ways to limit noise, law-breaking and inconveniences to those who live near the performing arts facility.
"What do we do to improve the situation as far as parking goes; as far as controlling the crowds?" Collesano said. "Whatever we can do to protect the citizens ... we do -- and we've been doing to the best of our ability."
He said the Village Board would meet with Artpark & Co. during the winter to discuss changes for the 2012 summer season. Collesano also said public forums would be considered.
"This is the way to do it," he said. "This is democracy. This is how we're going to do it."
Village resident and Center Street retailer Bob Giannetti began the Artpark conversation. He cited the venue's Aug. 1-4 schedule, wherein four concerts took place on four consecutive nights.
"How does any resident accommodate that and not have a complaint?" Giannetti asked. "Somebody needs to get this situation in hand."
He said concerts are too loud and the crowd size doesn't benefit the majority of Lewiston businesses.
"I ask you: Whose business (is profiting?) Whose business is it good for? It's good for late-night bars," Giannetti said. "It is not in keeping with the residential charm of the village to endure this type of thing."
Town of Lewiston resident Joan Turrell said her daughter warns her not to leave the house after 3 p.m. on concert nights because of the congestion on the village's main roads.
"It's like your whole town has been taken over by one event," she said.
Turrell said parking on side streets is approaching her street and "I really don't want that to happen."
Arlene Sliz, who lives down the block from Artpark's South Fourth Street main entrance, said the venue "was never designed to be the park it is today." She recalled ballets and musicals from Artpark's early days and said, "We've gotten away from that focus."
She commended the work of the Lewiston Police Department and Chief Chris Salada, but said she left the Aug. 2 ZZ Top concert because she first saw a fight break out and then she couldn't find any open spaces between the lines of people.
"It's such a shame we've come to what we have," Sliz said.
Osborne said non-rock programming wouldn't be feasible without rock concerts.
"People must understand that Artpark cannot become the venue it once was unless New York state wants to provide an least a $5 million per year subsidy, and that is not likely to happen," he said. "Every program we do at Artpark except for the rock concerts loses money. ... The symphony, the musicals, the family programs. We make up this deficit by putting on successful rock concerts."
With regard to the bigger concerts, Trustee Vic Eydt said his board was kept out of the loop when Artpark scheduled this summer's headline acts.
"We're handed a pot and we're trying to do the best we can with it," he said.
Eydt said the board and local police agencies have worked all year on making the concert nights as safe and secure as possible.
"Do we like 30,000 people? No," he said. "Have we discussed it with Artpark? Yes."
"We're going to be talking differently with them (this winter)," Eydt added. "I think we're going to have a little more say."
Trustee Therese Mudd encouraged residents to contact the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, as Artpark & Co. operates under contract with that office.
While the board's tone was firm, Collesano said, "We want Artpark to survive. We all want to see it survive. But we have to understand this is a small community. ... And this village was never built to have 30,000, 40,000 come in on an hour's time or two hours' time. It just cannot work out."
Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said he was encouraged by recent discussions with Artpark & Co. staff and board members, whom he said agreed 30,000 people "was too much."
"I'm encouraged by what's going to happen in the wintertime," he said.
Collesano said the excess crowds did provide one good thing for the village. He said he ordered Academy Park to open up as a pay parking lot for the ZZ Top concert, and that the municipality made a little more than $2,000. That money will be used to pay for the new Water Street security camera system.