How to revitalize downtown? Panel ready to name its preferred projects – Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

A panel of Lockport residents is set to recommend that a new marine center, a public event space at the old Spalding Mill and redevelopment of the Historic Post Office and the F&M building receive the largest shares of a $10 million state award.

The panel, dubbed the Local Planning Committee, has been tasked with recommending projects to receive portions of the city’s $10 million of Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding. 

The state will ultimately select the recipients. However, the committee’s list of recommended projects signals to the state which projects have community support and the potential to transform downtown.

“We want you guys to tell us what are the transformational projects, what is most important to your community,” said Chris Bauer, a coordinator with the New York Department of State.

The 22-member committee, which consists of city officials and representatives of local organizations and businesses, is expected to approve its final recommended project list later this week.

That list includes more than a dozen projects that would utilize nearly $15 million in initiative funding. State officials will pare down the list and announce the winning projects sometime this spring or summer.

The recommended project list would include:

— Construction of Lockport Marine and Harbor Center between the West Genesee Street and Stevens Street bridges. The facility would include a roughly 580-foot floating dock, an asphalt trail and a nearby parking lot. The $3.6 million project would be fully funded through initiative dollars. City officials say the entire center, including a structure with amenities like restrooms and gas pumps, would cost about $6 million and be built at a later time.

— Construction of a rooftop pavilion and an amphitheater/gathering space on the top levels of the Spalding mill near Main and Pine streets. Lockport Historic Mill Race, Inc., a non-profit organization, is asking for $2.2 million of initiative funds for the $2.5 million project, which also would improve handicapped access to the nearly 200-year-old property.

— Redevelopment of the F&M Building, 116 Main St. at Locust Street, into a mixed-use facility with covered parking. The nearly $5.1 million project would utilize $1.35 million of initiative funds. The owner, Granchelli Development, has an agreement to sell the building to a regional developer if approved for the initiative funding.

— Renovation of the Historic Post Office, 1 East Ave., into office space and an event venue. The nearly $4.85 million project, utilizing almost $1.8 million of initiative funds, would include improvements to the fire suppression system, kitchen, restrooms and elevator.

— Redevelopment of building three at Harrison Place, along South Street. Work would include rebuilding the atrium clerestory, leveling the ground floor, replacing windows and creating a shared kitchen with a food hall incubator. The incubator would allow aspiring restaurateurs to test their concepts on a smaller scale and offer diners plenty of food options. The $1.2 million project would utilize $955,000 of initiative funding.

— Redevelopment of the old YMCA building, 19 East Ave., into market-rate apartments or some combinations of residential, retail or office space. The project sponsor, Greater Lockport Development Corporation, recently issued a request for proposals for developers interested in purchasing the building. Committee members agreed to lower the initiative funding request from $1 million to $500,000 because its recommended projects list was too costly.

— Improvement of the Pine Street corridor. The $995,000 project, which would be fully funded through initiative dollars, would add crosswalks and landscaping and enhance traffic lanes in the confusing intersection of Pine and Lock streets.

— Renovation of the Tuscarora Club, 128 Walnut St., into a wedding and events venue on the first floor, and an apartment building and boutique hotel on the upper floors. Owner Dominick Ciliberto, who bought the building from GLDC last year for $230,000, is seeking $800,000 of initiative funding for the nearly $2.29 million project.

— Improvements to Historic Palace Theatre, including replacing the roof, adding roof solar panels and installing a new stage rigging system, orchestra pit and theatre seating. The non-profit theater is seeking $600,000 of initiative funding for a $1.25 million project.

— Funding for the in-progress Lock Tender Tribute. Work is underway on the first phase of the 14-figure statue, which is to be placed in the canal locks area as a tribute to Erie Canal lock tenders of old. The first phase, including four figures, is scheduled for completion in the fall. The Locks District Heritage Corporation is seeking $275,000 of initiative funding and would contribute $215,000 in private funds.

— Creating of a Small Project Grant Fund. This $1.2 million fund, including $600,000 in initiative dollars, would help downtown property owners make small improvements to their buildings.

— Rehabilitation of the Flight of Five Locks. The committee is recommending the state consider providing $700,000 of initiative funding to rehabilitate and reconstruct the most easterly bridge over the flight of locks.

— Addition of curbing and landscaping to better define the border of parking lots alongside Frontier Place and Chestnut Street. The initiative award would entirely fund this $500,000 project. 

The committee on Monday discussed the merits of nearly every project included on its preliminary list, as well as several that didn’t make the cut. Members concluded that the Mill Race and marine center projects — which if approved, would utilize over half of the total award — have the potential to transform downtown, and thus their big price tags are justified.

“It is a big chunk of the money, but the final product is gonna be really awesome,” said 4th Ward Alderman David Wohleben, adding that the west end needs “a lot of work.”

Jim Shaw, secretary of Lockport Historic Mill Race, Inc., made the case that their project would bring the “public space the city doesn’t have now.”

“This is really one of those catalysts,” Jessica Dittly, director of Lockport Main Street, said of the proposal.

The committee also discussed the merits of the parking lot delineations and Flight of Five project, which it added to its list on Monday. 

Wohleben said the confusion over the boundaries of the parking lots puts pedestrians at risk.

“It’s definitely a must for public safety,” he said.

Brian Smith, the city’s director of planning and development, argued that if the Flight of Five project was excluded from the list, state and federal agencies and private foundations may be less likely to offer funding in the future. Locks Heritage District Corporation President David Kinyon previously said it’ll cost about $7 million to restore the remaining two locks in the Flight series, a tab that is largely driven by the presence of foot bridges over the original locks.

“If I go to a foundation, and this project is not on the list … it’ll be very difficult for me to make that pitch,” Smith said.

LHDC originally asked for $3.3 million for the restoration of Lock 67. On Monday, the committee considered five alternative projects ranging from $2.2 million to $400,000 — and ultimately selected the $700,000 proposal.

The committee passed on a series of streetscape and trail connection projects after discussion. Committee member Jeff Tracy said he felt a $950,000 proposal to redo Walnut Street had few benefits aside from adding some on-street parking to the area near Harrison Place.

“It’s a million dollars for a couple of parking spaces,” Tracy said.

Similarly, Wohleben dismissed a $700,000 proposal to enhance the Park Avenue and Main Street intersection because the city will need to reconstruct the road sometime soon.

“It may be a waste of money to do this project right now,” he said.

Mayor Michelle Roman said the city may re-stripe the intersection in the meantime.

The committee also axed three individual property development proposals for The Warehouse, the Clinton Building and 13 W. Main St. Dittly said those projects should instead be funded through the Small Project Grant Fund, if the state approves that proposal.

“Those projects fall more into that category,” Dittly said. 

Bauer commended the committee’s selections, and said the state would consider each project’s sponsor, private funding match and its potential to transform Lockport.

“This is a great list,” he said.

But some residents disagreed with the committee’s selections.

Heather Hilderbrandt criticized the inclusion of the marine and harbor center, comparing the $3.6 million project to a homeowner buying a Ferrari rather than fixing cracks in the house foundation.

“It’s such a large chunk of money, and I don’t think it’s going to do what you think it’s going to do,” she said. “We need to show the public we’re investing in the actual city rather than splurging on a big ticket toy.”

The committee is scheduled to announce its recommended project list to the public at 6 p.m. March 18 at the Palace theater. 


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