by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Academy Park has long stood in the Village of Lewiston as an open air, recreation beacon noticeable to those who enter or leave the 1-square-mile village from the east. After Tops, it's the first thing people see driving along Center Street.
Some officials are concerned, though, the Welcome Center and chamber of commerce headquarters, the bandstand and band shell and the winter time ice rink attraction create a wall of sorts, separating the inviting openness of the park from the people who may want to use it.
Addressing the issues will likely be reserved for a new parks master plan, which the village board could approve as early as its next meeting April 15.
"I think there needs to be a master plan," Marianne Gittermann, village recreation director, said. "I think the village really needs to take the lead on this. We need to talk to the many organizations which use the park and find out what they really need, what they'd use and come up with some sort of recommendations."
Thursday's discussion about the future of Academy Park between the village's parks, recreation and conservation board and the board of trustees came about after Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter approached the village about constructing a permanent structure in the park to serve as a warming area while the ice rink was in service.
The popular rink, which operates primarily in December and January under town recreation department control, has used a temporary tent to offer an escape from the biting winter air, as well as host the refreshment stand and skate rental.
But the tent isn't in the best of shape and would likely need replacing in the coming years should the town continue to operate the rink.
"Is it the best location?" village planning board Chairman David Giusiana said. "Could it be used by the others who use the park, like the other organizations? Those questions need to be answered."
All of the issues, Giusiana said, would be addressed by any master planner who'd come in and assess the park. Mayor Terry Collesano said the master plan would be the best direction the village could go for its park attraction, which has hosted countless Kiwanis Peach Festivals and Pubfests, cruise nights and musical performances throughout the years.
Collesano himself said he'd be skeptical of a permanent structure, unless it was able to serve the needs of more than just the town's ice rink for two months. He said the certainty of the rink existing every year is even in question at this point, meaning a structure would be erected with no one to keep warm, should the scenario play out.
"The open-air pavilion came about during talks with (Reiter) about where the ice rink would go," he said. "In the last meeting, (Reiter) wasn't able to guarantee there would be a skating rink every year. So if there is going to be a permanent structure, it needs to serve multiple uses."
Jerry Mosey, who serves as the chairman of the parks, recreation and conservation board, said he wasn't in favor of or against a structure. Instead, he said he wants to see green space thrive in the village, which hasn't been the case recently.
He said it's one of the biggest concerns he's been engaged in dialogue about with residents throughout the village and isn't interested in seeing more green space disappear.
"Planning for the park to me is aggravating," he said. "I'm not so sure about a permanent building. Green space is disappearing with all these buildings there. Pretty soon, there's going to be nothing left."