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Italian Festival moving to Outer Harbor, adding fee

The Italian Heritage Festival is moving to Buffalo’s Outer Harbor this summer.

The 40-year-old festival, which started on Connecticut Street on the West Side and then moved to Hertel Avenue 29 years ago, has outgrown the North Buffalo location, festival organizers said Tuesday.

The Outer Harbor location will provide more space and improved parking when the festival comes this summer, they said. The 2017 festival is scheduled for July 13-16.

“With the success we had on Hertel Avenue over the 30 years, we outgrew our space,” said Marco Sciortino, a spokesman for the festival and its sponsor, Galbani Cheese.

There will be additional events not available on Hertel, organizers said, including an Italian car show.
Also, the keynote entertainer this year will be singer Sal Valentinetti from “America’s Got Talent,” who festival organizers said attracts audiences too large for Hertel to accommodate.

Also new this year, the organizers said, will be an admission fee.

While the fee structure has yet to be finalized, the current plan is to charge $5 per person, with children 12 and younger getting in for free, and half-price admission for veterans and senior citizens with an ID.

The fee is needed to cover the festival’s rising costs, Sciortino said.

Among those costs, others on the festival committee said, is security.

[RELATED: Sunday's Italian Festival crowd undaunted by Saturday night's skirmishes, untimely shutdown]

The planned Italian Heritage Festival move was announced Tuesday in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s office in City Hall.

Among those praising the festival’s relocation were Robert D. Gioia, chairman of the Erie Canal Development Corp., and Jonathan A. Dandes, representing the agency’s Outer Harbor Management Group.

Dandes said the festival fits in with the expansion plans for the Fuhrmann Boulevard area. An estimated 200,000 people came to the Outer Harbor last year, he said.

Attracting the Italian Heritage Festival, Dandes said, is a testament to the belief that the Outer Harbor will continue to grow, attracting even more events.

The Italian Heritage Festival attracted as many as 500,000 people to Hertel during its four-day run last year, Sciortino said.


[RELATED: Italian festival serves up food, fun, camaraderie]

He anticipates the festival growing even bigger at the Outer Harbor.

The festival organizers believe the festival move will attract more suburban residents who might not have wanted to come to the Hertel location, said John Amodeo, a member of the festival committee as well as the Hertel Business Association.
Losing the Italian Heritage Festival will be bittersweet on Hertel Avenue, said some organizers and merchants who attended the announcement.

Thomas J. Lombardo Jr., an owner of Ristorante Lombardo on Hertel Avenue, said the festival attracted business to his restaurant every year. But he said he’s happy that the festival has grown so successful that it needs to move to a larger venue.

Lombardo and others from the Hertel Business Association who attended the announcement also acknowledged there are merchants who lost business during the festival. Some, in recent years, closed and went on vacation while the festival was occurring.

“It will be bittersweet,” Amodeo said.

Similarly, Amodeo said, while some residents of the Hertel Avenue area enjoyed having the festival in their neighborhoods, others won’t miss the parking problems and traffic detours that the festival created.

Parking was one of the major problems with the Hertel Avenue location, Sciortino said.


[PHOTO GALLERY: Smiles at the 2016 Galbani Italian Heritage Festival]



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