Academy Park committee looks to have renderings at next meeting; seeks compromise
By Joshua Maloni
The Niagara County Peach Festival will likely get another year at Academy Park – if not more.
A newly formed Academy Park committee held its first meeting Thursday inside Mayor Anne Welch’s office. The 20-person group is tasked with forming a plan for the park’s future.
At the end of almost 90 minutes of mostly civil discussion on bleachers, staging, utilities, ice rinks (existing or future), and, yes, the Peach Festival, the consensus was that Fittante Architecture will create renderings of what Academy Park could be – with and without carnival rides – for the committee to review.
With no plan in place right now, and no immediate renovation or construction schedule, Welch said it’s likely the Lewiston Kiwanis Club’s request to use Academy Park for the 2020 Niagara County Peach Festival will be approved at the Oct. 21 Village Board meeting.
“We had the input of everybody, their wish list, everything they want in that park. So, we’ll see how the design comes out. And if (the Peach Festival is) included in that design, they’re included in the design,” she said.
Welch further explained, “Practically speaking, I can’t get anything done that quickly. There’s still going to be grants to pursue, and it’s going to cost some money to do this stuff. So, I would see them probably there in 2020.”
Jeff Jordan, who is the electrical guru for Lewiston festivals, said he has meticulously installed power sources throughout the park over the years. He brought a map showing utilities and ride configuration and said it would likely be 2021 or 2022 before such infrastructure could be replicated at Richard F. Soluri Park – where Welch has suggested the event move to in future years.
Jordan and outgoing Kiwanis President Marty Pauly said there’s no guarantee club members would approve such a move, even if the plateau area was capable of accommodating the now-four-day festival.
If the Peach Festival does continue on at Academy Park long-term, “there are some more things that we can talk to (Kiwanis) about to compromise and make it a little bit easier for them to be there, with the businesses and the residents and the traffic and everything. There’s some things that we can discuss,” Welch said.
Jordan said rides and booths could be reconfigured around any new park additions.
Architect Jim Fittante, who’s also a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said he worked up a rough sketch of Academy Park with a pavilion, a walkway around the park, and an ice rink/splash pad. On top of that, he overlaid the Peach Festival midway.
“I did a conceptual plan. I think there’s a happy medium, that would benefit (everyone),” he said.
A sticking point for Welch in voting to allow the Peach Festival to continue at Academy Park is the notion that midway trailers would ruin sidewalks.
Sevenson Environmental Corporate Project Manager Gary Rose, also a Kiwanian, said there are materials that could withstand such impact.
Fittante said, “You make one entrance with some heavy-duty ground stabilization that grass can grow over, and then at the walkways you use a panel system that you lay out and they can just. …
“Temper it,” Rose said.
“Yes, just temper it,” Fittante replied.
“Well, that works,” Welch said.
Additional discussion focused on what type of ice rink surface would be better – real or artificial; what type of seating (if any) could accompany the bandshell; the placement of a bathroom; and the possibility of putting rides on Cayuga Street in addition to or perhaps instead of in the park.
Frontier House developer and Kiwanian Jeff Williams said the committee was putting the cart before the horse without a plan in place.
“Let’s get something drawn up a little bit, some type of conceptual plan that we can actually talk about – that’s actually real – and work from there,” he said. “If we can’t, if we don’t have that, we can’t go any further.”
Neil Nolf, former public affairs officer for the Niagara Falls Air Base, said, “I think everyone here understands the significance, the positive impact, everything that goes on with the Peach Festival. It’s a wonderful thing for this community.
“I’m wondering what the mission of this organization is. What the vision is. Is it about a village green space for a historic Lewiston village, that can accommodate all of the different things that go into this community? I don’t know that we have the power to make the kind of decisions that are requested here tonight.
“But I think it’s important that … the guys with the plans, with the paperwork, perhaps, for the next meeting, you develop a plan. You get some engineering. … And then you have that vision of what you want to do with the park, encompassing the Peach Festival, encompassing all the other events that are going to go on in this village.
“We’re talking about the long-term of the village green space, and I would hope that, for the next meeting, we could then develop something that everyone here can take a look at and say, ‘That can work. That can work. Here’s what we need to make it work.’ And if it can’t work, then the other folks who are elected officials make a decision on whether that’s going to happen or not.”
Lewiston Council on the Arts Executive Director Irene Rykaszewski said, “Perhaps this committee could be a group that decides what elements they would like to see in the park, have a wish list, and then get somebody like John Morley who has designed all the parks on the Canadian side, and did the original plan for the Peace Garden, to come in and incorporate all of those elements into a coherent plan that is aesthetic and meets all the needs.”
She added, “I think if we have a wish list, and then we give the wish list to a professional, they could see if they could come up with something that actually makes sense, will function, and will look beautiful.”
Welch said, “That’s why I invited everyone, for their input as to what they wanted to see in the park – to redevelop the park.”
Some changes are already in the works.
Welch informed the committee that Harold Hibbard has offered to remove the bleachers next spring. He would’ve done it this month, but there was concern such demolition would disrupt the recently installed and now settling Veterans of Foreign Wars “Circle of Honor” monument.
Tops owner Anthony DiMino offered to move the bandshell, which he originally financed. The stage is probably relocating to the corner of Cayuga Street and Portage Road.
The Kiwanis Club has organized and executed the Niagara County Peach Festival for 62 years, using Academy Park for all but two years. Kiwanians submitted a request ahead of the August Village Board meeting asking for use of the grounds in 2020. Trustees said they wanted to see how this year went first, before making any decision.
The consensus in the room on Thursday was that the Kiwanis Club did a better job this year of moving the ride trailers off site, organizing parking (particularly with handicap spaces), opening up South Ninth Street for Tops grocery shoppers, and using additional law enforcement officers to create a safer event.
Not knowing where the next Peach Festival would take place resulted in some Kiwanians scouting out alternate sites – namely the Town of Niagara. Pauly previously said the club would prefer to stay in Lewiston, but at Academy Park. Either way, he said Kiwanians are on a clock, as it takes the better part of 10 months to organize the Peach Festival.
The Academy Park committee is set to gather again on Halloween. Their meeting is not open to the public.
A motion to approve the Kiwanis Club’s park request would require three affirmative votes. The Sentinel has spoken to a group of board members equal to or higher than that number on background, and each person has indicated a desire to see the Peach Festival at Academy Park in 2020.