City prepares for busy Grand Prix weekend

Anyone looking to make a last minute reservation this weekend for the Great Lakes Offshore Grand Prix is going to have a hard time finding a hotel with any vacancies. Nearly every hotel in Dunkirk and Fredonia is booked solid all weekend for the three-day event. Power boat racers from all over the world will be staying in the area, as well as many out-of-town visitors who are looking forward to the weekend’s festivities.

Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas is enthusiastic about the boon to the local economy this event will create. “As mayor, I’m excited about it. I’ve really never seen one of these powerboat races live, so I’m really looking forward to seeing it myself. We have many people from out of town who have been contacting us for information, so we’re expecting a lot of tourists. The hotels around here are pretty much booked. Our local merchants should be experiencing a big boost to their sales.”The Grand Prix weekend kicks off today with the boat parade at 5 p.m., which starts on Sixth Street and proceeds down Central Avenue to the pier. Live music in Memorial Park begins at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday, the boat trials and test runs will be taking place from noon to 4 p.m., with an airshow at 1:15 p.m. The evening will conclude with live music in Memorial Park beginning at 5 p.m. Throughout the day on Saturday, Beach Bash will be ongoing at the city’s beaches, featuring world champion sand sculptor Dan Belcher.

The much-anticipated boat racing begins at noon on Sunday and runs through 4 p.m. There will also be an airshow during race intermission at 1:15 p.m. and music in Memorial Park starting at 5 p.m.

The Clarion Hotel Marina & Conference Center, which is closest to all the action, and Best Western on Vineyard Drive are both sold out all weekend. Nearby, the Comfort Inn had just a handful of rooms with double beds available as of Thursday morning. According to one employee, “We’re almost sold out, but not quite. Over the past two months, we’ve had reservations coming in for this weekend.”

The Edwards Waterhouse Inn on Central Avenue in Fredonia is booked solid this weekend, but most guests are there to visit Lily Dale.

“It’s been a busy summer,” said co-owner Jeff Peterson. “Mostly, our summer guests are here visiting family, coming for class reunions or visiting Lily Dale.” The Queen Anne-style Victorian bed and breakfast has five guest rooms and has been very popular since it opened in 2012.

Those looking for accommodations are most likely to find vacancies in Mayville and the southern portion of the county. Rosas said, “When I talked to Jamestown’s Mayor Teresi this week, he said that lots of folks are calling the hotels in Jamestown to get rooms for this event.”

City of Dunkirk Police Department Chief David Ortolano advises visitors to beware of congested traffic patterns throughout the weekend. The busiest times are expected to be on today between 5 and 6 p.m. on Central Avenue and Saturday and Sunday during the morning and afternoon all along the lakefront, especially the City Pier and Lakeshore Drive.

According to Ortolano, “Many streets will be closed or have limited access and parking in the Lakefront Boulevard and Pine Street areas and Point Drive North/Cedar Beach area.”

Alternative parking is available at the fairgrounds, with a shuttle available to take visitors to the boat races. The police department urges everyone to pay attention to “no parking” signage, traffic cones and the directions of police officers and fire police who will be helping to control traffic.

“We want everyone to enjoy the festivities, but we will tag and tow vehicles that violate posted/coned off no parking areas, as we have to keep streets open for public safety and emergency services access,” Ortolano explained. For more information about the Grand Prix, as well as alternative parking areas and bus shuttles, visit the city website at dunkirktoday.com.

Rosas is hopeful that the Grand Prix will return to Dunkirk next year, and is encouraged by the great learning experience this year’s event has already proven to be.

“I commend all of our departments — our police, fire, our DPW — all of our departments working collaboratively is what makes this event possible here. From my perspective, seeing all of the departments working together, that’s progress. That tells me that we can do these big events and we can handle them.”

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