April 15, 2012
By Neale GulleyThe Tonawanda News
Since the state's Niagara Greenway Commission began awarding money to
local municipalities about four years ago for waterfront improvements,
about $1.5 million has already been put to work for various projects in
both Twin Cities.
More is tied up pending approval.
North Tonawanda as a whole has been awarded some $578,000 for projects at Gratwick Park and the first round of planned work at the city-owned marina at 1000 River Road. The Herschell Carrousell Factory Museum also was awarded a grant for $30,000, which has already been used to create its new Kiddieland ride attraction.
"I've seen the results of it. I think it's a fantastic program because it offers communities an opportunity to achieve their goals on the waterfront," said Michael Zimmerman, development coordinator for the Lumber City Development Corp., in North Tonawanda.
In terms of the breakdown of funding for each city, the City of Tonawanda has already spent nearly $1 million, its share of the competitive annual disbursements made available as part of the New York Power Authority's re-licensing agreement, and awarded through local "standing committees."
In the city, competed projects and those under way include $867,000 for a public pavilion at Niawanda Park now being built, and $75,000 for a planned kayak launch at Eastern Park, that has been approved but is now in the permitting phase.
Tonawanda City Engineer Jason LaMonaco said another $600,000 in Greenway money is being sought for two new projects: one aimed at erosion control along the Niagara River shoreline and another to erect a handicapped-accessible fishing pier below the Long Homestead foot bridge.
Those projects, he said, have been deemed consistent with project goals by the Greenway Commission — as is required of all submitted projects considered for funding — but are still awaiting final approval.
LaMonaco said erosion along the riverbank at Niawanda Park is created by wind-driven current and boater activity. A request for $250,000 would allow the city to break up concrete blocks along the shore and add other aggregate, as well as plant trees and vines in the area to reinforce soil.
So far the city has received the single largest disbursement of funds in the pavilion grant, which LaMonaco said was one of the first projects awarded funding through the program.
"We got it early. That was one of the first chunks to come through," he said.
North Tonawanda's projects have included a handicapped accessible fishing pier and new playground at Gratwick Park — work that represents just the first phase of a master plan for the waterfront destination. Future phases likely to also include Greenway money involve an outdoor kitchen/pavilion at the park and new bathroom facilities, Zimmerman said. With plans to lease the long-beleaguered public marina now in the crosshairs, about $300,000 is being used to ready the property for lease to a restaurant company.
He said the Lumber City is also well positioned to take advantage of future grants.
"I think North Tonawanda is in a prime position," he said. "We have acres of viable waterfront, and we've seen over the last decade or so that the city has seen a lot of improvements. As those improvements happen, the city gains a lot of momentum to leverage and go after the next project."
Such past success helps the city make the case for future investment, he said.
In the Town of Tonawanda, which has not yet submitted any Greenway projects, Supervisor Anthony Caruana said plans to create a landscaped parkway along River Road are headed for the drawing board.
"It's exciting because it's been suggested in the past, to make it look like a real parkway," he said of the concept to beautify both sides of the road running through the town's mostly industrial area between the City of Tonawanda and Buffalo.
He said a second idea involves a waterfront park pavilion and related landscaping off Aqua Lane near the town's water plant.
"It's a beautiful place for sunsets and weddings and those kind of things," he said.
Caruana said other grant money is being sought now to design both projects, before officials will seek Greenway funds to fund the actual work. He said it's still unknown how much each project would cost.
Zimmerman opined that the Greenway program has proven to be effective largely because it creates a powerful incentive for communities to make improvements that normally don't come with much financial upside.
"Public improvements are very expensive but they don't have much of a feasible return," he said. "So it's important that there's this gap funding in place. Those quality of life investments have big up-front costs."
Contact reporter Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 4114.