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Canalfest faces challenges with new leadership

NORTH TONAWANDA – After decades under the direction of Larry Denef, two new leaders have emerged to bring Canalfest 2016 to the Tonawandas on July 17-24.

But with just a few months until the big event, it appears there still is some work to be done.

Canalfest President Peter Chenier Jr. of North Tonawanda and Vice President Rick Maier of the City of Tonawanda met with the North Tonawanda Common Council on Tuesday, but City Attorney Katherine Alexander told the men that they could not get a contract with the city until they submit proof of insurance, dates of events and information about what streets will be closed, in writing.

In fact, those checking out the Canalfest of the Tonawandas website may have some of the same questions since, under events listings, it states “we’re working on it.”

Chenier told the Council that he has been involved with Canalfest for eight years, but taking over the event has “been like a full-time job.”

“North Tonawanda has always welcomed us and has been a partner in the event,” he said. He assured Council members that the footprint of the site and the schedule of the events is expected to be exactly the same as 2015. Denef is still involved, advising and coordinating musical acts, the two new leaders said after the meeting.

Chenier told the Council there will likely be changes in 2017 with the City of Tonawanda expected to close Young Street for the event. He said they’d also like to bring in some new offerings from groups like the Buffalo Zoo and the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Maier said the Bike Cruise has become one of the most popular events, drawing nearly 1,500 motorcycles.

He said last year they didn’t have enough space and had to turn away 300 potential participants

“Last year was not a good year for us,” Chenier said. “Sponsorships were down and payments were delayed across the board, but we don’t plan on having that issue anymore. Larry did a tremendous job, but we are trying to work with the nonprofits better and continue moving in a positive direction.”

The Common Council also met with City Accountant Mark Dotterweich, who advised Council members to reconsider joining the Greater Niagara Orleans County Municipal Health Insurance Consortium.

The city recently settled contracts with all five city unions and Dotterweich said without the unions’ support and agreement, the city should not consider joining the consortium, since they could find themselves embroiled in a lawsuit.

“This (consortium) can’t match the policy we have with the five unions,” he said.