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Board ponders public health, safety services for Gus Macker

Fri, Feb 12th 2016 08:15 pm
Gus Macker
Gus Macker

By Larry Austin

Island Dispatch Editor

The town government met again Monday to discuss the proposal by Corey McGowan to hold the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament June 11 and 12.

At an afternoon meeting in Town Hall, Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray said public safety and public health are two major issues to address about the Gus Macker Tournament before the Town Board will give approval to a second annual event.

McMurray said he spoke with Grand Island Fire Co. Chief Matt Osinski and learned the GIFC is concerned with the plan for the event's emergency services coverage. McMurray said Osinski is not against the Macker, but is worried that the GIFC doesn't have the resources to cover the event and the hundreds of people who attend and play in a two-day street basketball tourney while still fulfilling the volunteer company's community service needs for the whole Island.

McMurray said, "Maybe we just dodged a bullet" last year with emergency service coverage when the Gus Macker made its debut on the Island.

Councilman Chris Aronica said last year the board was comfortable with McGowan hiring two ambulance crews to cover the emergency services for the two-day event, but McGowan said he doesn't want to spend money if he can get the services elsewhere, such as the GIFC. He questioned the need for two ambulances to deal with basketball injuries that are mostly scrapes and bruises.

McGowan said he met with Osinski and was told the GIFC's hands were tied.

Councilman Ray Billica asked McGowan if he offered the GIFC money for its services, and McGowan said the idea didn't come up in the meeting.

McMurray warned that if the person in charge of emergency services for the Island says it's dangerous, "there's no way we can sign off on it."

The work session offered opponents of the Macker to sound off on the tournament and its promoter.

Linda Feldman, owner of Eddie's Art Shoppe in the Town Hall Plaza, which fronts Grand Island Boulevard where the Gus Macker Tournament is held, asked why the town "is so concerned" about a private citizen making money on the event. "Why is it more important for this gentleman to make a profit on two glory days ... for this type of activity as opposed to all of us business people in the central business district who are directly affected by the events that happen on that day?" she asked. "Collectively, we lose more money than he stands to make. Who's more important?"

Feldman said McGowan's two-day event makes money on the backs of the brick and mortar businesses that operate "24/7/365," and she asked why the event could not be moved to another location, such as Industrial Drive.

McMurray said he is open to any other location for the event, but pointed out the Macker is held in town centers like Grand Island, "and Main Streets across America are traditionally public squares ... that are open to these types of events."

Feldman pointed out some Mackers are held in community colleges or industrial parks, not business districts. McMurray said to call the town center off limits for events would be a detriment to the town. He called the Macker "a huge windfall" for businesses he spoke to after the event, which Feldman disputed.

"It's a fabulous venue," McMurray said.

"Not for me," Feldman responded, before listing the businesses she said were negatively impacted by the event.

McGowan said he respected Feldman and explained he prefers a street festival, similar to festivals like the Canal Fest or the Italian Festival, "because the event creates high visibility."

McMurray said he wanted to find a solution that helps everybody and that his biggest concern now is that it's safe, and the GIFC said it was not.

This was news to councilmen Aronica and Ray Billica, the latter saying he didn't hear any of this feedback after the Macker, which was held last year in August.

Businesswoman Bonnie Sciuk, who has property near Grand Island Boulevard, said she was "sick and tired of having my property act as a free parking lot, as a garbage pail, and as a place to urinate."

Sciuk said she never had a problem with the Fourth of July parade crowd, but quality of life issues came up with the Gus Macker and the lawn mower race, both run by McGowan's production company.

She also said she doesn't want alcohol served on town property, as other McGowan events (not the Macker) propose.

"If you want to have a bar, open it up and make a business of it," she said.

Sciuk's complaint of garbage was, again, news to councilmembers. Councilman Mike Madigan said he was at the event from beginning to end last year and it looked "very well cleaned up." He called the event "unbelievably successful. That's my impression."

The board also heard from Levino Johnson of Executive Investigation and Security, the company that handled security at the 2015 Macker. Johnson said the event in 2015 was "fantastic" despite the absence of some anticipated communication equipment.

Billica asked Johnson about the number and types of officers employed last year, because there was considerable discussion by the board last year on the matter, and if there was a reason to change that. Johnson said the manpower was adequate and "maybe just a little overkill," but necessary because that's what the town wanted last year. Johnson said the only 911 call was for children climbing a tree.

Johnson said everything worked "picture perfect" last year, and the only flaw was the radio issue.

Addressing the fear of a negative incident eventually happening at an Island event like the Macker, Billica drew an analogy between the tournament and playing on Island playgrounds. He said while some localities have chosen to rip out their playgrounds to avoid exposure to liability, the Island has not.

"Our kids will play on those playgrounds. They're going to get hurt. We've been sued before," and accidents will happen, Billica said, "but we don't stop living because of it."

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