AMSTERDAM -- Saturday will mark the 4th annual Amsterdam ItaliaFest, the largest annual tourism event in the city.
Mayor Michael Villa said during the first year of his administration he revived what had been a decades long annual tradition of an Italian festival held on Amsterdam's Southside.
He said the success of the ItaliaFest has been the cornerstone of his administration's effort to increase marketing and tourism through its #FestCityUSA and #SoMuchToDoinAmsterdamNY social media campaigns.
"It was one of our first new events, going back in 2015," Villa said. "This is the fourth year, hard to believe really. We're really proud of it. It set the tone moving forward, the success of this one. This brings the biggest crowd. The community comes together, people of all ages, from young to old. You see a lot of people reminiscing about days gone by."
Amsterdam resident Rick Raco said he likes ItaliaFest because it helps unify the city, and reminds him of the 1950s and 1960s
Another city resident, Gary Dlugas Sr., said he likes ItaliaFest for the cultural diversity it fosters.
"With each step you take you enter into a different group, a different way of life, a different culture, all brought together by a street fest," he said.
Under Villa's administration the city's Recreation Department has been transformed into the Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department directed by Robert Spagnola.
Spagnola, with help from his former assistant Danielle Whelly and current assistants Michele Pawlik and Michelle Jackson, has helped expand the number of annual city-sponsored tourism events in Amsterdam from nine to 27, including events like SoupFest in January, St. Paddy's Day Pub Fest in March, WingFest in April and RiverFest August.
Pawlik said the city-sponsored festivals are meant to market the city as a whole to the surrounding region.
"This event is what started our 'fest'-themed events, its our largest outdoor event that is not only great for the community but for our local businesses and restaurants," Pawlik said. "This event brings in people from all over the Capital Region. That is our goal, to not only provide events and activities to the residents in the city and Montgomery County but to provide activities and events for people outside of our area as well."
Spagnola said if the weather is good he anticipates upward of 7,500 people to attend ItaliaFest.
"Everything is free that we do, so it's a somewhat costly event, but its biggest event of the year, but fortunately we have a lot of sponsors over the course of the year that help us offset the costs."
Spagnola said he didn't have exact figures for the cost of ItaliaFest on Monday, but indicated some city-sponsored festivals lose money, while others make money.
"It all balances out by the end of the year," he said.
This year's festival, which starts at noon and includes fireworks at 9 p.m., has received funding from sponsors, including the Lanzi Family Restaurants, Sticker Mule, St. Mary's Healthcare, the Sentinel of Amsterdam and 18 other businesses, all listed on facebook.com/City-of-Amsterdam-Tourism-Marketing-Recreation.
There is also a "Cops and Joggers 5K" race scheduled for 10 a.m.
Villa said the headliner musical act will be Doug Ferony at 6 p.m., but will also include Louie & Lisa Velez at 1 p.m., and a group called Music for Life at 3 p.m.
"Ferony was the headliner for the first time we did it in 2015, so we wanted to bring him back," he said. "This is the end of summer, so this is perfect timing for us with Riverlink Park ending its concert series, sponsored by the Waterfront Foundation. So, this is one of the few outdoor events left this year that we can enjoy without coats and hats on."
One relatively new event will be the spaghetti-eating contest, sponsored by the not-yet-open "Lorenzo's Southside" restaurant, owned by the Lanzi family.
Joe Lanzi said his family business is in the process of remodeling the kitchen at 1 Port Jackson Square, a location that's served as several restaurants in the past, including "LaCucina de Parillo" and "The Tavern." He said the new restaurant will be named after his father, and is located about a block away from where his grandfather started his first restaurant more than 100 years ago.
"This is the first time we've done the spaghetti eating contest, so I don't know how it's going to work," Lanzi said. "I'm not sure how many people will sign up for it, or how much pasta we'll need. We're not open yet on the Southside, but we have the kitchen there. We've remodeled the whole building. We're going to be doing pasta and food-fired pizza here in a couple of months."
Lanzi said his family hopes to open a second Southside restaurant and banquet hall at the site of the Chalmers Mill Lofts apartment project, if the developers receive the federal tax credits necessary to build the building.
"It might be called 'Lanzi's Southside', but we're not set on the name yet," Lanzi said of the potential Chalmers-site restaurant.
Pawlik said ItaliaFest will feature 120 vendors selling festival items and 20 food vendors.
Spagnola said the spaghetti-eating contest will include 10 participants and will be judged by speed rather than volume of pasta eaten. He said the idea for the contest grew out of the former HomecomingFest event the city used to sponsor, which had a pie-eating contest, but has now been replaced with a city-sponsored bonfire event.
"Everybody will be given a set amount of spaghetti. It will be the first person done with their big plate of spaghetti, with their hands tied behind their backs, with a little bib on them to keep the sauce from going all over," he said. "Hopefully we'll get some pictures with spaghetti all over their faces."
Villa said parking will be available for ItaliaFest at the location of the former Chalmers Knitting Mill.
"We'll utilize that lot, and various other locations on the southside," Villa said. "Usually we have a shuttle going to [Our Lady of] Mt. Carmel or the [Riverfront Center]. We'll have a meeting Tuesday to discuss the final preparations for that."
Spagnola said the next big city-sponsored festival after ItaliaFest will be OctoberFest on Oct. 5.