By Michael ReganThe Tonawanda News
New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales stopped at North Tonwanda City Hall on a whirlwind tour through upstate New York, in which he touted the benefits of state funding doled out to remediate brownfield sites left in the wake of industrial flight.
Perales briefly met with the public before taking a tour of Tonwanda Island. The city received a $423,450 Brownfield Opportunity Area grant through his department in March that will assist it in completing an implementation strategy for a 546-acre section of the island along the waterfront. The funding will not be used directly for remediation, but rather, toward rezoning much of the island from commercial and industrial designations to mixed use.
City officials envision mixed use redevelopment there with a focus on a pedestrian friendly environment and access to the Niagara River, though nothing firm has been planned at this juncture.
Perales pointed to revitalization blueprints recently completed and funded by another BOA grant worth $175,000, as well as other successful remediation projects that led to the creation of the Buffalo Bolt Business Park and Gratwick-Riverside Park.
"I'm here to see what it is that can happen when we make the investment," Perales said. "That can create real opportunities."
State Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblyman John Ceretto, who were on hand with Perales, said they can remember a time when the entire stretch of River Road was littered with nothing but industrial sites, prohibiting access to the waterfront.
But both also added that they've seen a shift under Gov. Andrew's Cuomo's administration and the amount of interest from him in bringing real economic development opportunities to the region.
"This is an excellent step by Gov. Cuomo using the department of state," Maziarz said.
Perales also backed up what they've seen in Albany, noting part of the reason North Tonawanda has been successful as of late in receiving state funding is due to the city presenting "very exciting plans."
Mayor Rob Ortt said the recent funding received will in part go toward rezoning parcels on the island, as well as further planning along River Road. He said similar efforts helped the resurgence of the Buffalo Bolt Business Park, with five of eight parcels already sold there.
"This is really the final step before there's shovels in the ground," Ortt said.
Ortt said the city also continues to eye development along Oliver Street, once the center of the city's commercial district, and cited sections of downtown as a template for what the rest of North Tonawanda should become.
"Redevelopment is critical for the city's future," he said.
Perales said that funding in the future would more than likely come through the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council because the governor believes in the "bottom up approach" as well as the influence of private investment.
"The government can't do it all," Perales said.
He also lauded what he termed a "productive partnership" between the state and the Twin Cities during the past several years, with five projects funded through state grants mostly along the Erie Canal and Niagara River.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.