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RECORD GATE LIKELY AT FALLS FEST; NEW SIGHTS MAY OPEN BY WEEKEND

Midway through the 44-day Festival of Lights, some organizers are predicting that records could be broken if attendance levels continue.

And a downtown developer says that by the end of this week, two developments adding to the festival's attractions may partially open.

If required certificates are issued by the state and county, John P. Bartolomei said, the Falls Street Faire and the Falls Street Station would open partially by Friday or Saturday.

Festival organizers say crowds appear larger than usual this year, although no numbers are available yet. They say that December's mild weather as well as new lights and displays are contributing to the festival's success.

"It looks like attendance is up substantially this year," said Tom Darro of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. "I would go so far to say that if it keeps up, we will beat the big year of '88-89, when 960,000 people attended the festival. Last year, we were down to 680,000. The reason was the weather.

"Good weather, quality events and community activities" have helped lure large crowds, said Charles P. Steiner, president of the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the festival volunteer committee.

"At this point, it is hoped that bus figures will approach and even exceed the previous year's high of 2,700. But we have to wait for the week between Christmas and New Year's, which is traditionally extremely busy," Darro said.

Bartolomei agreed the week between Christmas and New Year's is one of the festival's busiest, which is why he wants the two long-awaited projects to open, at least partially, by Christmas.

Bartolomei, a Niagara Falls lawyer, and Edward U. Bevilacqua of San Diego, are principals in a number of development companies, commonly known as The Niagara Venture, that developed the Faire and Station as well as the Niagara Splash water park and the Inn at the Falls.

"Our hope is to open next Friday or Saturday. If we don't catch Christmas week, we'll probably wait until . . . February," Bartolomei said. That is when a women's bowling tournament comes to town.

The opening of the twin $30 million entertainment and retail developments depends on a certificate of compliance being issued by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, which has conducted building inspections on the projects, he said.

"As long as we have that certificate, we'll open," Bartolomei said.

In addition, before the amusement rides in the Faire can operate, they must be certified by a state inspector.

"What I'm trying to do is show people they're done. I think people will like what they see," Bartolomei said.

The projects were scheduled to be completed two years ago.

Festival organizers and tourism officials expect the two projects to give a boost to the downtown area.

Frank Bettino, festival coordinator, said visitors have noticed and have been very complimentary about all the new lights, animation and displays that were added this year to the 10-year-old festival.

New displays have been added around the Convention & Civic Center, E. Dent Lackey Plaza and the Wintergarden, he said.

Festival events and activities continue through Jan. 6.

Display hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5 to 11 p.m. on Fridays, and 1 to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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