By Benjamin Joe
On Tuesday night at North Tonawanda’s Common Council Meeting, Mayor Arthur Pappas commented on the lack of communication between officials in the City of North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda, in regard to the upcoming Canal Fest, an annual summer festival featuring rides, games and fireworks on the border of the two cities overlooking the Erie Canal.
Usually, Pappas said, the planning for one Canal Fest almost trips on the heels of the preceding Canal Fest. This year, however, he said, it seems that nothing’s been done and, as the month of March approaches, city officials are becoming nervous.
“Because there’s going to be construction on both sides, everything’s been up in the air, because, I think it was just uncertainty, as to what’s going to be available, what areas and what isn’t,” he said. “Up to this point there’s been no discussion between the two cities, at least not with the officials.”
“It will affect the rides in particular,” said Common Council President and 3rd Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka. “If they want to move something we need to know how much, and why, and what construction caused the displacement of those rides to NT. We’d like to accommodate that, so, just like the mayor said, we want to communicate on what we can do and where we’re supposed to have this without any interference with parking or businesses.”
Zadzilka and Pappas said the rides on Niagara Street would be the ones that are moved, possibly creating a division of rides for younger children on one side of the canal and have the faster, more adult rides on the other. Zadzilka and Pappas also said there were expenses that such moves would create: police, fire and DPW personnel would have to be coordinated with each change.
“It’s the first major change in the 30 and some years,” Pappas said. “This is going to be major – if it materializes. That’s why we’re a little bit concerned.”
A little bit concerned, but not paralyzed. The issue was addressed during the meeting by Alderman-at-Large Austin Tylec who said he’d been contacted by the City of Tonawanda Common Council President Jenna Koch. She wanted to go over Canal Fest with officials from both sides and include department heads such as City Engineer Chelsea Spahr. Tylec asked Spahr if there was enough information to have such a meeting in the next week.
“We just sent out the notice to proceed to the contract for the placemaking, so we really don’t have a full schedule yet on where they are going to be, but there’s going to be construction in our downtown corridor this summer,” Spahr said.
Alderman-at-large Robert Pecoraro then suggested that Tylec speak to the mayor before setting up a meeting with Tonawanda.
“We’re already in the process of putting a meeting together,” Pappas said after Tylec asked for his thoughts. “We’re going to have a meeting with the mayor over there and his assistant next week, but it wasn’t until last Tuesday that we received anything at all. There are a ton of questions that deserve to be asked and answered because of the construction anticipated on both sides of the canal, and there’s many things to be worked out.”
“Do you feel that it would be good then to have two councilmembers and engineers join the meeting?” Tylec asked.
“I think we have to include a couple of our department heads, we have to talk to fire and police chiefs and DPW people. This involves some major changes if they go through,” Pappas said. “There’s been more questions than answers up to this point, because there’s been virtually no communication and I emphasize, ‘No communication.’ ”
“It sounds like there’s going to need to be a series of meetings,” Zadzilka said. “Art’s working on the first set of them. I think, it’s going to definitely behoove us to meet with Tonawanda, but I think that it’s not going to be over in one meeting. I think a lot of this is late communication and we need to try to see what we’re going to do to coordinate what this stuff that’s going on with the placemaking and also wrap our heads around what Tonawanda is doing, which we don’t know.”
Another aspect Pappas said he thought was disturbing was plans for the use of private property for the festival without contacting the owners of those properties.
“There was no communication between the Canal Fest Committee and the owners of private property that they assumed they were going to use,” he said, indicating this proposal would affect properties on the North Tonawanda side of the border.
Zadzilka asked Tylec to reach out to Koch before any official meeting was organized in order to get a “heads up” on what construction timetables they had, Spahr could focus on North Tonawanda’s construction timetables.
“That way, we can have a more streamlined, effective meeting,” Zadzilka said.
Tylec said he’d contact Koch later that night and ask that Mayor Rick Davis also be informed.
As of the writing of this article, no comment has been received by any organizers of the festival. Information on past Canal Fest’s can be found at www.canalfest.org.