Tonawanda News

February 21, 2013

Canal Fest closing time debate reignites

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Although sunny skies and warm weather seem years away amid this week’s snow and wind, Twin Cities’ signature summer event, Canal Fest, was on the forefront of everyone’s minds at the City Council meeting Tuesday. 

The ongoing debate began last April when the City of Tonawanda council voted to change the closing hours for the event from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. on their side of the canal, citing public safety concerns.

The decision followed the 2011 fest that was tainted by a near-brawl of about 150 youths near the festival grounds one night. On another fest night in 2011, Chief of Police John Ivancic shut the midway down a half-hour early after authorities made six disorderly conduct arrests in 15 minutes.

The city requested the same fee of $17,000 for the use of public services during the event, despite the reduction in hours. 

Canal Fest representatives opposed the decision and said the reduced hours would result in less profits for both the community organizations and the ride operator, Corky Powers, of Great American Midways. 

“The change of the hours was a completely unilateral decision on the council’s part,” Randy Fahs, an organizer for the event said. “In previous years, we felt that there was a good dialogue with them to resolve problems. But that didn’t happen last year.”

Organizers fought the change to the bitter end. Fahs said if Powers’ profits were reduced, he may not choose to sign another contract with organizers when the document expires after the 2014 fest.

Just days before the event after months of back-and-forth arguments, organizers conceded to the hour change by signing the event contract.

But the fight was still far from over, and after the 2012 event ended, the clash continued. 

The city hailed the decision as a success. Event-related arrests reportedly came in at just eight — down from 29 the previous year.

But Canal Fest organizers charged police changed tactics and simply didn’t choose to arrest more people. They said profits from the event were down 20 percent. 

And now, the controversy over the 2013 hours has begun. The council said in a meeting last month they intend to keep the change in hours.

Larry Denef, president of Canal Fest, and Fahs, came to the council’s meeting to discuss the policy and lobby for later hours on four of the fest’s busiest nights. 

“It was the same thing on both sides,” Fahs said. “We were trying to reiterate the importance of the event. ... My concern and fear is that this is the biggest event in the community and it raises the most charitable money ... yet we seem to debate its existence every year.” 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150