Italian Festival to remain in Warren

Committee refuses offer of Niles move

Tribune Chronicle / Jon Wysochanski Former Cafaro Co. president Tony Cafaro speaks Thursday evening to members of the Italian-American Festival committee about the possibility of moving the festival to Eastwood Field and out of downtown Warren. Members chose to keep the festival downtown.

NILES — Even after being wined, dined and promised access to a world-class marketing team, members of the Italian-American Festival committee turned down the option of moving the festival to Eastwood Field in the name of sticking with tradition.

Members voted 59-8 to keep the festival in downtown Warren, and they still came away with a promise from former Cafaro Co. president Tony Cafaro to donate $10,000 to their scholarship fund. Cafaro hosted the committee for more than an hour at Eastwood Mall before the members entered into a private meeting to vote on whether to move.

Cafaro and his team, who proposed changing the festival name to the “Greater Warren Italian-American Festival,” laid out a plan to the committee that included the possibility of increased revenue, better parking, a new bocce court and a chance to bring in more people from surrounding communities. The team had a mock festival promotional commercial prepared that they aired to those attending and they said the Cafaro Co. would put forth its best marketing efforts for the festival.

Cafaro said moving the festival also would bring younger Italian Americans into the activities and teach more people about Italian heritage. Cafaro urged the committee to embrace regionalism instead of isolationism and he said the recognition of Italian culture is not dependent upon any particular geographic location.

“Relocating the Italian Festival to Eastwood will not be a slap in the face to the city of Warren,” Cafaro said. “Instead it should be viewed proudly as an expansion of greater Warren’s position and dominance in the area.”

But members of the committee said something would be lost by moving the festival out of historic downtown Warren with its beautiful courthouse, shade and trees to a parking lot void of vegetation, even though the Cafaro team offered access to the best landscapers around to beautify the event if they chose to move.

Committee member Corey Hovance said keeping the festival in Warren is very important to him because his grandfather, Lou Metter, was a founding member of the festival.

“I’m keeping his legacy alive with my vote,” Hovance said.

Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa, also a member of the committee, said he’s “extraordinarily happy” the vote turned out the way it did. Although he’s appreciative of the Cafaro Co. proposal and its support of the festival, the downtown location is a key part of the Italian community’s heritage, he said.

“We believe the festival was born in Warren, it thrives in Warren and it should stay in Warren,” Cantalamessa said. “The vote tonight demonstrated that the heart of the festival remains in Warren.”

Cafaro Co. spokesman Joe Bell said there are no hard feelings and the company will keep working to bring other events to the stadium.

“They came to us and asked us for a proposal, so we gave them a package of ideas that we thought were really going to be good for their particular event, perhaps grow their event and make them more money for their scholarship fund,” Bell said. “We’ll always talk to them again if they change their minds.”