By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Following a string of successful big money grants reigned in by the
Lumber City Development Corp. and city leaders in North Tonawanda, Mayor
Rob Ortt announced Wednesday that a vacant marina along River Road will
get $686,919 through federal funding from the U.S. Department of
Interior that will be put toward resuscitating the dilapidated property.
While initial details are sparse as the city formulates a plan, Ortt said some of the money will be used for docks and bulkhead repairs. The Boater Infrastructure Grant Program, called BIG, combined with an additional $300,000 from the Niagara River Greenway Commission procured last year, will bring the total allotted for the project to just under $1 million.
Ortt, who has been criticized by some for spending $100,000 to conduct a feasibility study — money set aside by former Mayor Larry Soos for the marina — said it is the very reason the city has been able to procure a rash of recent funding because it formulated a precise plan, giving the city an advantage over other municipalities with competitive grants.
"When I campaigned for mayor the marina was certainly a topic that came up, it was a promise of mine that we were going to turn that property into something viable," he said. "We've been able to leverage that money for $1 million dollars. I think it was well worth the $100,000."
Ortt said what was lacking was vision. While a number of varying ideas were floating around when he took office, nothing seemed to quite add up to a resolution.
The mayor and the council hired a firm, Applied Technology and Management, specializing in marina and waterfront property, that conducted the year-long study and came up with a conclusion in early 2011.
"They found there was not a demand for another marina," Ortt said. "All the other marinas in the area were at 75 percent capacity and we did not want another city-owned marina. We don't want to be competing against private businesses."
Ortt also credited the firm with initially applying for the federal grant in September, while Michael Zimmerman, planning and development coordinator for the LCDC, said his organization worked closely with the city's community development department and ATM.
Zimmerman said the city will not receive the funding until sometime in March but those involved with the project are striving tediously to ready the site.
"It will work hand in hand with the restaurant that's going in the clubhouse because they want to get in this summer," he said. "But we definitely have months ahead of us and it will be a process."
That process includes an environmental review and a request for proposals for possible engineering firms, along with a clearer direction on how exactly to spend the funding. BIG provides money to construct, renovate and maintain tie-up facilities with features for boaters.
"This is going to help us achieve the necessary work to bring more boaters and pedestrians down to our waterfront and really tap into an asset," Ortt said.