By Gabriela Knutson SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — One could barely talk over the deafening hum of the forklifts today on the corner of Montgomery and Washington Streets, as the workers set up Syracuse’s annual ‘La Festa Italiana.’
The three day festival begins tomorrow, and is set to feature a meatball eating contest, a bocce tournament and free bocce lessons, as well as loads and loads of cheesy food. The first company to arrive on the scene was ‘It’s a Utica Thing,’ whose trailer is featured in the main photo.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of ‘La Festa Italiana,’ but they have only been in the space in front of City Hall for 17 of those years. Before that the festival was in Clinton Square, where most Syracuse festivals are held. Known for its historical monuments and empty spaces, the square is an ideal place for large scale production, but it was not ideal for ‘La Festa Italiana.’
Jenny Lostumbo, Head Volunteer of ‘La Festa Italiana,’ has been overseeing the 300 volunteers of the festival since it began, and she explains how the festival was too spread out. In their initial layout, the main stage was in Clinton Square, but they had to put the children’s tent near the Atrium and the heritage center across the street by the Post Standard. “They didn’t close all of those streets, so it was difficult for people to walk,” Lostumbo said. “We have a lot of people who come who are handicapped, with wheelchairs and walkers and canes. It’s much easier this way; they get dropped off and then they’re in a closed area. And it’s just much easier for them to maneuver.”
Lostumbo says that ever since 9/11 in 2001, she is not allowed to disclose the number of people that come to the festival each year. Nonetheless, she says over 30,000 people came before 2001, and the number has definitely risen since then.
Alice Maggiore, Downtown Committee’s Communications Manager, says that Syracuse’s arts, culture, and entertainment festivals bring in 5.1 million visitors to the city center. Out of the 14 festivals in the center, only a small few are not held in Clinton Square. They are the Stage of Nations, Syracuse New Times Street Painting Festival, and the Syracuse Arts and Crafts.
Maggiore understands why people associate festivals with Clinton Square, but she also hopes that one day all eight neighborhoods in downtown Syracuse will be just as popular, vibrant, and filled with events and people.