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Pictured is a promotional poster for `The Eclipse: A Step Back in Time.` The event, as first presented, is no longer happening in Lewiston. (Image courtesy of Lee Simonson)
Pictured is a promotional poster for "The Eclipse: A Step Back in Time." The event, as first presented, is no longer happening in Lewiston. (Image courtesy of Lee Simonson)

Lewiston eclipse event essentially canceled

by jmaloni
Thu, Jan 4th 2024 07:00 am

Mayor: Board reversing course on closing Center Street due to safety concerns

By Joshua Maloni

GM/Managing Editor

Lewiston is losing its eclipse event.

On Wednesday, Mayor Anne Welch said the Village Board intends to reverse a prior vote permitting the partial shutdown of Center Street for what would’ve been an Historical Association of Lewiston-coordinated viewing party on Monday, April 8.

The municipality’s main roadway would’ve been closed to traffic from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Sixth to Fourth streets, to accommodate a program titled “The Eclipse: A Step Back in Time.” Activities were set to include “19th century demonstrations (turning) Center Street into an ‘living history’ frontier village, including metal forging, pottery making, fur trappers, Native Americans, music and dancers, candle making, cooking, military reenactors, and many other displays.”

However, “After talking to the chief of police, they don't want to close down the street because they're worried that we're going to have so many people that it would be not a good situation to have closing the street,” Welch said. “So, after talking to them, the board discussed it again, and said, ‘Yeah, it's probably not a good idea to have the street closed.’ ”

Welch said she offered alternative eclipse viewing sites, including Academy Park, Hennepin Park or the plateau off Portage Road, and suggested HAL could use the Frontier House and Apple Granny Restaurant parking lots. That said, “I think they just decided not to do it.”

Community advocate Lee Simonson was spearheading the eclipse event. He stated, “There won’t be any 19th century performances or displays. The mayor encouraged using Academy Park, but the volunteers felt it would be too soggy in early spring.

“What will happen? Church bells will be ringing 10 minutes before and after totality. And we hope that the businesses can turn off their exterior lights and put candles in the windows. We also hope the village turns off the street lanterns during totality.”

The partial eclipse is expected from 2:04-4:32 p.m., with totality from 3:18:24 to 3:21:41 p.m.

Historical Association of Lewiston President Ken Slaugenhoupt added, “The event, as we were going to do it, was hinged upon having a whole series of historic venues on Center Street to kind of give it the old-timey feeling while this happened. When it became clear they’re not going to shut down Center Street, and try to get us to go to Academy Park – on April 8, you could have a foot-and-a-half of snow or you could have mud up to your eyeballs. So, the concept that we had in mind really became dead.

“At this stage of the game, we might have the church bells ringing. We might have a couple of simple things. It’s not going to be the event that we anticipated.”

Unknown Crowd Size a Factor

Lewiston Police Department Chief Frank Previte said his officers are able to handle any safety and traffic scenario – be it closing Center Street, or having an event at one of the parks – just as they do for festivals and concerts.

However, “In our standpoint with the police department, the biggest concern, I guess, would be the unknown,” Previte said of the eclipse. “I mean, we've got everybody telling us in the meetings that we've gotten – the (police) chiefs meetings and some of the briefings – we've been told to expect maybe a standstill, after an event like this, of up to an hour. That's happened in different locations where you can't get anywhere.

“So, I guess one of the concerns is shutting down Center Street would just exacerbate that, depending on what kind of turnout we had or people that come in.”

Welch said, “It’s just safety. We’ve been told that people are going to be coming here in droves. It’s just not a good idea to close the main street.

“And actually, we hadn’t even applied to the (New York State Department of Transportation, which governs Center Street) for a permit yet. DOT might’ve weighed in and said, ‘Not a good idea at this time.’

“All of the other communities are preparing for a lot of people, and we’re not going to be any different.”

Previte said, “This kind of harkens back to the (2010s-era Artpark free) concert days. There's just no way to tell. We might have 1,000 people show up for this. We might have 30,000. There's just no way to tell how many people are going to actually be here.

“The variables – the unknowns, I guess – would make it a little bit dicey. It could complicate things – shutting the street down, which is a major thoroughfare through the village, could just complicate things – if we're going to already have a traffic jam anyway.”

He noted elected leaders are “starting to get an honest kind of headcount of what this might turn into,” with some expecting to have guests of their own in Lewiston. Doing the math, “Shutting down Center Street – that could turn it into a bigger mess.”

Trustees Reverse Course

Village trustees voted to approve the eclipse event at their Nov. 20 board meeting, speaking highly of the occasion and suggesting closing Center Street could benefit local merchants.

However, as part of the discussion that night, Deputy Clerk Donna Vazquez noted the Upward Niagara Chamber of Commerce conducted a quick survey of business owners. She said the polling revealed merchants do not favor closing Center Street.

Chamber President Jennifer Pauly said, “The mayor's office asked us to poll the Center Street businesses. The majority of the businesses that answered the phone/responded did not show interest in having the street closed and wanted more details. Obviously this wasn't a full survey, as it was asked to be done fairly quickly and we didn't have full details to provide. 

“We don't have an official position on it, as it's not our event, and I'm not exactly sure how far along the planning was for it, other than info. that was given at one meeting and an email as to what type of vendors and entertainment they wanted to do. We did provide guidance to organizers that they need to meet with fire/police/DPW to go over plans for the event.”

Trustee Tina Coppins stated, “I voted for the closing of Center Street, but the businesses have spoken to the mayor, and they do not want us to close Center Street.

“Everyone is thinking that 100,000 people may show up. They may, but who really knows? This event is not just happening in Lewiston.

“Everyone will be able to experience this eclipse throughout Western New York. I think every city, town and village will be using this event to attract people to come together to witness this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event and show off their local businesses.

“I do like the idea that event organizer Lee Simonson and his committee is trying to achieve. I would think the businesses would benefit from the people being front and center (no pun intended).”

Coppins said the eclipse viewing could still work in Academy Park.

“It will be a shame if the committee doesn’t move forward with this event,” she said.

The next Village Board meeting is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, in the Red Brick Municipal Building at 145 N. Fourth St.

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