Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-I-Lewiston, hosted a second meeting Monday with local stakeholders to discuss plans and identify partners to help develop the Lehigh Valley Rail Yard. The group held its first meeting on March 16. Ceretto then reached out to the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council's (REDC) logistics workgroup to put the rail-yard project on their radar screen.
"The dialogue is encouraging," Ceretto said. "The REDC is interested in what we are doing and what our next steps are going to be. I have also reached out to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Agency regarding the upcoming master plan for the Niagara Falls International Airport. NFTA has told me that adjacent and advantageous properties to the airport certainly will be evaluated for their potential use. We are hopeful that Lehigh will be considered as part of their new master plan."
"Developing this property is a top priority," Ceretto noted. "My discussions with local stakeholders have revolved around our regional assets - the bridges, the Canadian market, Niagara Fall International Airport - and how we can use these to leverage future economic growth. We're asking questions like, 'How can the train station on Main Street be connected to NFIA to drive Canadian passengers to the airport? What services can we meet for our agricultural and manufacturing industries that aren't currently being met?' "
"I'm 100 percent behind these efforts," said Niagara County Legislator Jason Zona, who has attended both meetings and represents the portion of Niagara Falls where the rail yard lies, as well as the Town of Niagara. "There is potential here, and I'm working with Assemblyman Ceretto and city, county and state officials to realize that potential. It is our collective plan for this area to be redeveloped to support local industry."
Ceretto noted that the Lehigh property is approximately 65 acres. The state Department of Transportation is working on developing 15 to 20 acres as a maintenance facility to service regional Amtrak trains, which would preserve jobs in Niagara Falls. Ceretto and the stakeholders group strongly feel that the remaining 40 acres are available for development, his camp said.
"The city is grateful for Assemblyman Ceretto's efforts to reactivate the Lehigh Valley Rail Yard in Niagara Falls," said Thomas J. DeSantis, senior planner of the City of Niagara Falls. "A third of the site has been identified for use as a maintenance facility and we look forward to finding potential partners for the development of the rest of the parcel."
"We see it and hear it every day: Niagara Falls and Niagara County sit in a prime location, but are unable to capture the wide, international market that presents itself," Ceretto said. "I'm confident that we've turned the corner. Our group has demonstrated that City of Niagara Falls officials, Niagara County officials and New York state officials are on the same page. We want this property developed; we want to be able to move people in and out of the region; we want to support our agricultural and manufacturing sectors. The bottom line is that it's about job creation. We have tremendous regional assets and we need to take full advantage of them."