By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
— As crews on Monday dismantled the many rides and vendor stands left over from another widely attended Canal Fest week, a two-sided dispute continued over the effects of this year’s decision to close the festival an hour earlier on the city side.
It may be months before the final numbers are in to frame how well the many organizations and entrepreneurs who aim to make money during the eight-day event performed.
Several of those who take part say they have seen evidence of a dimmer financial picture due to the change. In addition, the state for the first time enacted a new law that prohibits ride operators from working more than seven days in a row, halting an opening night draw to the festival.
Canal Fest President Larry Denef said he’s hearing widespread rumblings from those purveyors, many of whom predicted dire economic outcomes since the city council voted to close the Erie County side of the event at 10 p.m. rather than it usual 11 p.m., on concerns about crime related to rambunctious youths.
But Mayor Ron Pilozzi contests the likelihood of those complaints and said even if they are true there’s really no way to verify the economic impact, other than the testaments of the vendors themselves.
“For somebody to say they lost 20 percent or 50 percent, maybe they did but how can you prove it?” he said. “How can we take action on idol rhetoric and emotion?”
Denef said it will be difficult to prove anything until he hears back from the 40 or so organizations who use the festival’s dollar potential as the life blood for their continued
existence in the community. A final tally is traditionally released sometime in the fall.
And despite the mayor’s cynicism, Denef said he is hopeful that once those numbers do come forward the council is willing to have a conversation regarding some concessions. He said attendance numbers did appear to be down from more recent years.
“You don’t know how much of that attendance is affected by the negative as far as all the bickering and arguing,” he said, referring to the Canal Fest committees public opposition to the closure with the city council.
But while Pilozzi said he would want the event to remain in both cities, he also noted that it brings little direct economic benefit to the city and reiterated the idea that chief among the concerns of his administration is public safety.
He also took offense to claims by some that the city’s police force intentionally made fewer arrests this year to solidify the argument that closing down the event earlier had a far-ranging influence.
The city’s Police Chief John Ivancic last week whole-heartedly refuted such claims.
While the final arrest numbers have yet to be released, an estimate conducted by the Tonawanda News based on published police reports shows a total of eight arrests for the entire week — down from 29 in 2011.
“I think it’s uncalled for,” Pilozzi said of the criticism. “It almost looks like somebody is trying to go out of their way to make this event a failure. To openly say that we as city officials or the police chief is going to take it easy on the kids this year to make it look good, it’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Denef praised the police departments in both cities and said there will be no immediate rush to change the configuration of Canal Fest.
“Everything works on flow,” he said. “If there was a better place to put the rides we would have done it a long time ago.”
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.