By Joshua Maloni
The Niagara County Peach Festival will remain at Academy Park for another year.
On Monday, the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees voted to keep the Lewiston Kiwanis Club fundraiser at that site for 2019. Board members did, however, ask organizers to make changes for next September's event.
Trustee Vic Eydt made the motion to approve. He said that, logistically, it would be difficult for the Kiwanis Club to find and ready a new location in only nine months. He and Trustee Nick Conde said Kiwanians should be given more time to research alternative sites - namely the Lewiston plateau overlooking the village on the road to Artpark's upper entrance.
Dan Gibson seconded the motion, which was unanimously approved.
The Kiwanis Club will hold the 62nd annual Peach Festival at Academy Park from Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 5-8. The organization was given use of the Center Street, Portage Road and Cayuga Street grounds from Saturday, Aug. 31, through Saturday, Sept. 14.
Eydt said, "I think this should still be here (at Academy Park) next year, but I've got concern over the number of motor homes they've got there."
Both he and Mayor Anne Welch asked the Kiwanis Club if Amusements of America ride operator vehicles could be moved to the plateau.
"You've got people wandering around there. Last year, I know on Cayuga Street we had one that was right out to the edge of the road," Eydt said. "There's no shoulder; there's nothing. It's crazy up there, (and) it only seems like there's more and more each year."
Welch noted, "In our codebook, it says no camping in the park."
"It's just getting too much," Eydt said.
"Is there a way you can move the motor homes up to the plateau?" Welch asked.
Conde said, "That would help a lot."
Kiwanis Club President Marty Pauly said, "We believe there is a way. We are going to be meeting with the ride company (at the end of January), and that is going to be one of the first things that we discuss with them."
Welch specified the Kiwanians would have to accommodate the previously approved Willow Consulting Saturday morning artisan market. Additionally, the Village Board is implementing a refundable deposit to cover maintenance costs following each festival.
She explained the Kiwanis Club's $1,000 fee "is to make sure the site is left about the same way," as it was prior to the festival. "If that's the case, you'll get the deposit back."
Welch said the state of Academy Park following the 2018 Peach Festival was unacceptable.
Department of Public Works Superintendent Terry Brolinski said his crew found ruts in the ground and debris embedded into the green space.
"It's the peoples' park, and they can't even use it," Welch said. "We want something that people can go there and use it, and picnic there, and go to the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) monument."
Kiwanian Tom Deal asked if Academy Park could be assessed prior to the Peach Festival, to ensure a proper post-event evaluation.
"I drive by there a lot. I see car shows; I see vendors; I see other people (walking around)," he said. "As long as we leave it in the same shape that we found it, I think that's all you can really ask."
Eydt said that was a reasonable request, and added that caveat to his motion.
Welch said, "I have a concern about the number of days. Can we go back to three days?"
Pauly said, "At this moment in time, I can't guarantee that. ... That's written in our ride contract with the company. We would have to discuss with them."
He later added, "With the success that the festival had this year, adding Thursday night, it's going to be tough for the ride company to want to go back."
Pictured is an artist's rendering (with quadrant numbers added) of the conceptual plan for Academy Park in Lewiston. Read that story HERE.
At a board work session one month ago
, Welch announced conceptual plans to renovate and reconfigure Academy Park. The proposal discussed that night would divide the grounds into four sections, while removing the bleachers and moving the stage area to the corner of Portage Road and Cayuga Street; free up space for at least one new pavilion; and possibly add a centrally located splash pad or ice rink.
Project funding wasn't identified, but it was suggested the Village Board would seek grants.
When coupled with new walkways, Welch said it would be impossible to have large trucks driving into the park with midway rides - a Peach Festival staple.
Moreover, at the previous meeting she said the municipality stands ready to receive Greenway funds to connect the Lake Erie to Lake Ontario walking/biking trail into Academy Park. Greenway monies could be given for a new comfort station and sidewalks.
On Monday, Welch said, "You know we want to redevelop Academy Park. We have plans to do that. I don't know if we're going to have funding in place to start doing that (in 2019). It could be next year; we could start next year. I don't know."
With that in mind, Welch said the "best solution" is for the Peach Festival to relocate.
"We've asked you if you would move up to the plateau," she said. "You could still have your four, five days - whatever you need - up there. Plus the motor homes. There's more parking. It's still visible; it's two blocks away. It's something to think about when you talk to your ride company. They may want it to be up there, so they can get their extra days in."
Pauly said the Kiwanis Club will begin in earnest to research the plateau and see if it's a viable festival location.
"There's a ton of things that need to be studied up there," he said.
The Peach Festival was held at the plateau almost 20 years ago to accommodate Center Street roadwork. Kiwanians weren't thrilled with the results. Moreover, members recently expressed concern about the site's visibility, as well as the grounds' infrastructure capabilities and lack of staging areas.
Welch said, "I'm also looking into funding for the Lewiston plateau. I would like to put a pavilion up there, some more waterlines and electric, to house Kiwanis.
"We want to work with you, and try to make it better up there with you."
Pauly said, "When we do meet with the ride company, we are going to discuss moving up to the plateau."
Eydt said, "If they do move up there, I want to get commitments as far as grants and whatnot to increase whatever we need up there - whether that's power or water. I know there's stuff up there now, but whether it's the quality or quantity of what they need, that's the question. You're not going to get that (answer) overnight. I think one year (is OK), as long as we're moving in the right direction."
Deputy Mayor Claudia Marasco said the Kiwanis Club should begin discussions with Amusements of America as soon as possible.
"There's so many moving parts to this, and I think that the preparation, the conversations, have to start sooner," she said. "I want you to be really well-prepared, should you move up there (to the plateau)."
Welch said, "We do want to work with you. We don't want to lose Kiwanis. We don't want to lose the Peach Festival. But I think that going to the plateau will benefit you and us. We have to work toward that."
Following the meeting, Pauly said he was relieved the Kiwanis Club was given permission to use Academy Park in 2019.
"That's where we believe that the Peach Festival belongs," he said. "We are comfortable with it there. We know the ins and outs. We do know some work needs to be done on our end to make the field even more safe.
"We, at least, can now proceed with our planning for 2019 knowing that we will be there."
The Kiwanis Club uses Peach Festival revenues to fund a bevy of local organizations throughout the year. To date, more than $1 million has been donated.