OSWEGO, NY – One person’s family festival is another’s nightmare; and vice versa.
On Wednesday evening, the city hosted an informational meeting among city officials, Harborfest representatives and the general public to discuss plans to once again locate the festival’s midway at the marina parking lot north of Lake Street.
The meeting was facilitated by Connie Cosemento, the First Ward’s councilor.
Up until last year, the midway was located on the east side of the river, at the Port Authority. However, the Port began an expansion project in 2009 that facilitated finding a new home for the midway.
After much debate and vocal opposition, the midway was moved into the parking lot.
Residents of the area complained that the noise and lights from the rides and amusements coupled with the noise from the crowds would be major problems. The also said the smell of the motors for all the rides would be unbearable.
According to Harborfest officials and Oswego Police, things went rather smoothly last year with no major problems.
Some Lake Streets residents still would rather see the midway elsewhere.
David Hamm brought a notebook filled with incidents he documented during Harborfest 2009.
“I live right there. I see what is going on 24 hours a day,” he said.
According to his notations: the carnival is right across the street from a bar, during one fest revelers from that bar were disrupting traffic; Harborfesters invade residents’ property, especially in the First Ward; one young man was so drunk he mistook a park bench for a public toilet; and complaints about vandalism and other rowdy behavior goes unnoticed by city officials.
Harborfest is “a wonderful party for the drinkers and a horror story for the neighborhood,” Hamm said.
“They bring their beer, literally, by the wagon load up the (Lake Street) hill. They pull their wagons behind them, full of huge containers full of beer. They’re mostly sober when they go up the hill, they’re mostly drink when they come down the hill,” Hamm said. “We need to pull the alcohol out of Harborfest. We need to do it this year, and every single year. If that kills Harborfest, that’s too bad.”
More than 30 people from the First Ward told the council last year, “We don’t want that circus in our backyard!” Hamm said. “The people spoke, the council didn’t listen. So why would they (residents) show up this year?”
“We didn’t want it. We said we didn’t want it. The council ignored us,” he said. “How can that possibly be? It didn’t make any sense to me then. It doesn’t make any sense to me now.”
“As far as drinking in Breitbeck Park, you can do that 365 days a year, it’s right in the ordinance. There are certain places where you can consume alcohol all the time,” said Mike Dehm, police chief.
Tom Van Schaack, executive director of Harborfest, pointed out that there were two incidents last year (at the midway) that the police department had to respond to.
“Both happened after hours, and were between midway workers. They were taken care of swiftly, and after the second incident the workers were asked to leave and they no longer worked at the midway,” he said.
Harborfest officials addressed concerns about noise and traffic safety “before and during Harborfest” last year, he added.
The midway’s hours of operation were strictly enforced and the music was kept at a moderate level throughout, Van Schaack said, adding, the midway was fenced in with round the clock security.
There is no alcohol allowed in the midway and none is sold at the midway.
Hamm admits the noise from the midway and the music was kept at a reasonable level. However, “Above that level was the din that you just cannot believe. Every single minute of every single hour, all day long, girls screaming at the top of their voices (every time they went on certain rides). No one should be subjected to that kind of torture, and you cannot stop it as long as that circus is in our back yard.”
The police department has tried to address the residents’ issue by putting more officers in the neighborhood during the festival, Dehm said, but he admits they can’t be everywhere at the same time.
“We’re more than happy to help any way we can,” he said
“The Lake Street marina parking lot is not only a perfect fit for us but it’s also the only location that makes logistical sense,” Van Schaack said.
The midway accounts for 75 percent of Harborfest’s in-festival revenue.
“Harborfest benefits our community in so any positive ways. Not only does the festival bring thousands of visitorsÂ to the area during the last full week of July every year, sales tax dollars increase during Harborfest and an economic impact study done by Cornell University in 2005 estimates Harborfest leads to a stimulus of almost $24 million in direct demand for local goods and services,” Van Schaack pointed out.
“I estimate Cornell is full of baloney,” Hamm said, adding he wants to hear facts, not estimates.
Mercedes Niess is director of the H. Lee White Marine Museum, just down the street from the midway.
“This past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was there (at the museum) until 11 O’clock on Saturday night, and there was no trouble. I was really surprised how little I could hear the music,” she said. “I really, just being half a block away, I found it not to be anywhere near as intrusive or disturbing as I thought it might be. I didn’t get a negative response from any of our boaters.”
Harborfest is an important income generator for the region, she noted.
“We want to be respectful to the citizens of Oswego, and of the First Ward,” said John Scardella, president of the board for Harbor Festivals. “We understand their issues.
The alcohol, the revelers aren’t coming from the carnival, he said.
“It is coming from other places. Last year, the tavern that was on the corner was closed. There wasn’t any issue with alcohol that we were made aware of by the police who were coming from that venue,” Scardella explained.
There were several members of the board who were down there, making sure the rules were adhered to, he added.
Terry Manion said where he used to live had a similar kind of festival.
“It is an annoyance to a lot of residents. On the other hand, it puts the place on the map, like Harborfest puts Oswego on the map,” he said. “Harborfest gets a lot of people to come to Oswego. If they have a good experience, they will come back. If they have a bad experience they won’t come back. But if they don’t have a reason to show up they won’t be here â€“ there are a lot of other places to go.”
Harborfest is a part of living in Oswego, he said, adding “It’s important to the city at large.”
Jeff Bame said he supports the festival.
“My family comes in from Michigan to go to Harborfest. We enjoy what it has to offer,” he said. “I’m sure that when my kids were little they were at the midway doing their fair share of screaming.”
He suggested Harborfest consider placing the rides responsible for the most noise at the back of the midway, away from the residents’ homes.
It doesn’t matter if the Cornell study was $12 million or $24 million, Harborfest generates an awful lot of money for the area, he pointed out.
As a backup plan, Harborfest officials sought to secure the parking lot of the old Price Chopper site (East Seneca â€“ Cayuga to Schuyler streets) for the midway.
Since then, the council did give permission to close off that street, if need be, Cosemento noted.
However, there is going to be a shipment of windmill parts coming in to the Port during that time, so it wouldn’t be feasible to close off that street, the councilor said.
Harborfest will bring its request before the council’s committees next Monday. If it gets a favorable recommendation there, it will go to the full council for consideration the following Monday.
That leaves ample time for more public input before any action is taken by the councilors, Cosemento pointed out.
“The purpose of Harborfest is, always has been, and will continue to be to promote and increase public awareness of the unique history, geography, recreational and transportation opportunities of the Oswego Harbor, the city of Oswego, the Oswego River drainage basin and the eastern shore of Lake Ontario,” Van Schaack said. “That purpose hasn’t changed in 22 years and will not change in the next 22 years.”