OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Tom Van Schaack describes his first Harborfest as a positive thing.
“My first Harborfest was nothing but positive. The most frequent ‘complaint’ was people wanting to know what happened to East Park (why Harborfest didn’t have anything there this year). But you’d have to ask the people that made that decision why,” Van Schaack said referring to the board’s decision following several focus group meetings with members of the public as well as the business community.
“The focus groups told the board of directors to put the harbor back into Harborfest, and I think we accomplished that,” Van Schaack said. “We brought the West Pier into play this year with the tall ship (US Brig Niagara); and we brought Fort Ontario back, which was a tremendous venue. I can’t say enough about the Children’s Committee and Sean Callen (committee chair). They did a wonderful job putting that venue together and I think that the fort was probably the MVP of our festival. They were awesome.”
“I looked out over the crowd (opening night) and it was huge. Tom asked me if it was a good crowd. It’s his first year and he doesn’t have any perception to compare it with. I told him it was a very good crowd,” said John Scardella, president of the Harborfest’s board of directors.
“The rain really didn’t hurt us all that much. Maybe it kept the crowd down a little bit early Thursday evening. In spite of the rain, we’ve had great crowds with great entertainment,” he added.
Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman said for him, one of the highlights of Harborfest was the Children’s Parade.
The mayor helped led Friday’s parade from East Park to historic Fort Ontario, home of the Children’s Stage.
“We got to the fort, stopped and turned around and there were still children coming in several block back,” he said. “It was a great turnout.”
The rain showers were more of an inconvenience than anything, he added.
“To me, personally, Harborfest is about the Children’s Parade and the many, many events for children and families,” Scardella said.
He said he stood at East Park (East Fourth and Oneida streets) and watched the parade head to the fort.
“When the last kids were crossing East Bridge Street, I could not see the police cart leading the parade. That’s how long the line was,” Scardella said. “That was just fantastic.”
The tent where the children’s musical “Tom Sawyer” was filled to capacity right after the parade ended, he added.
“I think it’s an awesome event,” Neal Champion said of Harborfest. “It brings a lot of people to Oswego. There is a lot to do and the fireworks are great.”
He quipped that he brought his wife to Oswego because he’d secretly arranged the fireworks spectacular in honor of her birthday Saturday.
“It’s a great birthday party,” she laughed.
“It seems like there is a little less this year. The crowds aren’t as bad; it doesn’t seem like everyone is trying to see the same thing at the same time,” said Dennis Brooks of Mexico.
“We usually don’t go to the west side. We usually just stay here (at the fort park) and East Park, but there is nothing there this year,” his wife, Lisa, added.
“Harborfest has been fantastic,” said Jeannie Babcock. “The weather could have been better, drier. But the festival itself has been a lot of fun; there has been a lot to see and do.”
Most everybody took the rain in stride and laughed it off.
“I need a bar of soap so I can take a bath,” quipped Joe Gunther during Sunday afternoon’s downpour.
“I think it’s been great (other than the rain). Obviously, I don’t have anything to go by,” said first year executive director Tom Van Schaack. “We didn’t have any major problems. As far as I’m concerned, everything was positive. We have had four great nights with no major issues at the midway.”
Several First Ward residents had spoken out about the re-location of the popular Harborfest venue earlier this year.
Because of an expansion project at the Port of Oswego Authority, the midway carnival was forced to find a new home.
Harborfest officials advocated and were successful is getting permission to locate the midway on Lake Street near the Coast Guard station this year.
“I have to give Chuck Handley a pat on the back. He was in charge of that venue and he was on top of the whole thing all the time,” said First Ward Councilor Connie Cosemento.
They were kind of loud Wednesday night, and there were no complaints about music or anything after that, she added.
A side affect of the carnival was all the screaming for people on some of the more nerve-wracking rides, she admitted.
“The constant screaming tended to be a little annoying at times, but other than that things went fine,” Cosemento said.
“I tried to get out around here (at Breitbeck) and the fort each day,” Scardella said. “There was a lot of great events goings on.”
“Those guys were a hit!” he said of the pirate troupe from Shadow Players. “They came up to Breitbeck and performed a little, too. They were having their pictures taken with everybody. It was just wonderful. It was great to see such nice crowds at all the stages.”
“We travel up and down the East Coast doing pirate shows. We are very happy to be in Oswego,” said ‘Pirate’ Steve Whetzel of Raleigh North Carolina. “The people at Harbrofest have been wonderful to us.”
The festival’s board will now review this year’s festival and begin planning for 2010 and beyond.
“We’ve already started that. We’ll take stock of this year and get input from the public and start planning for next year’s Harborfest,” Van Schaack said.