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Canal Days isn’t going away

August 29, 2018

Canal Days in New Haven isn’t going away next year or anytime soon. 

That was the reassurance given the more than 60 people who showed up at a New Haven City Council meeting tonight for a public discussion about the popular festival’s future.

But just where parts of the 2019 festival might end up is still undecided.

Put forward as a suggestion Tuesday night by auto repair business owner Larry Lash was relocating the midway rides and games from Broadway to Dawkins Road. The midway would stretch from the City Hall driveway to the New Haven Bakery.

He said the proposed change was occasioned by concerns by from businesspeople like himself that closing Broadway for the festival hurt their bottom lines.

The new location would have about 5,000 square feet more space, better safety because of the elimination of pedestrian crossings at the railroad tracks and easier policing because of the compact footprint, Lash said. Broadway still could be used for evening events, but storefronts would be more accessible during the day, he said.

However, Jon Stauffer, festival committee president, said the suggestion was something of a surprise.

“This is the first time I heard the suggestion of having it on Lincoln Highway or Dawkins,” he said after the meeting.

During the meeting he called the idea “the most attractive suggestion that we’ve heard to date” and said it was worth considering at upcoming festival committee meetings.

No votes were taken or commitments made during the hour-long gathering. But about 20 residents and business owners stood up to speak for an allotted three minutes each, enforced relatively strictly by New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald.

McDonald pointed out the city does not sponsor the festival, but does issue permits to close certain streets to accommodate events.

Several business owners, including tax preparer Lisa Holler, stressed they did not want the festival to go away from downtown or altogether.

That sentiment was echoed by Kasey Anderson, 17, a high school senior who said the festival was a big memory of growing up.

“It’s the lights, the rides, seeing your friends, being away from your parents. There’s just something about it. If you move Canal Days, it just won’t be the same anymore,” she said. 

Several residents said they had been going to Canal Days since they were children. One worried that if the festival were to be changed too much, it would die out. 

On the other hand, some changes might make the festival better and give it a chance to grow, several residents said.

Ron Doctor, owner of East Haven Tavern, said the festival is good for his business. Instead of taking “a defensive posture” businesses might focus on the hundreds of people the festival brings “to walk outside right by our doors.”

To laughter from nearly everyone in the room, he added: “I hate to quote Donald Trump, but maybe we need to make Canal Days good again.”

rsalter@jg.net

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