by Terry Duffy
Call it another hurdle cleared.
Following months of background work by the town committee, then Town Board informational sessions, support building in the community and then a failed vote of "not being consistent" May 21 from the Niagara River Greenway Commission, the Town of Lewiston Civic Center finally got an official go-ahead Thursday.
The Host Communities Standing Committee met and by a vote of 8-0 approved the town's requested funding for $9.2 million or $430,000 annually for the Lewiston Civic Center. The approval now permits the town to execute its contract with the Lewiston-Porter School District for the purchase of 10 acres of land in front of Lewiston-Porter High School for $50,000. All that remains to make the Civic Center construction a reality is approval of a town-wide voter referendum by Lewiston residents on July 15 to seal the deal.
Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter was joined by town grant writer Bernie Rotella in delivering a convincing appeal for approval of the project before Standing Committee members. "This is quite an endeavor for a small community," Reiter began. He spoke of the facility's wide-ranging recreational appeal, not only for youth sports, but also to northern Niagara County area residents, and the Lewiston-Porter, Niagara-Wheatfield and City of Niagara Falls school districts. And in his remarks, he managed to bring the center beyond that of being just a Greenway enhancement, but an enhancement to the area's economic value.
Reiter spoke of the benefits that a new Civic Center will bring not only to Lewiston, but also to the Niagara County and Buffalo area as a whole. He relayed to the committee how he engaged the interest of a representative of the national sports marketing firm, Sports Facilities Advisory. "What they look at is an area for sports tours," said Reiter.
"He liked the Town of Lewiston, the Niagara region and our community," Reiter continued, telling the committee of how the individual toured the Niagara region and learned what and how much it has to offer in terms of youth sports and that he came away impressed. "He would (want to) make Lewiston part of a tournament tour," said Reiter, explaining the advisory group's idea for marketing not only Lewiston, but also the appeal of entire Western New York area to national youth sports tours. "It would start in Texas, then move up to Gatlinburg" and include Lewiston.
Reiter told the committee how Lewiston has the distinction of being one of only five communities in the country that puts on its own baseball tourney, how this type of event transcends to benefit the Niagara Falls area in terms of filled hotel rooms and greater economic activity and value. Bringing in a civic center and all the events it would entail would mean even more activity and greater economic value. "It's a great opportunity," he said.
Reiter's comments were met with overall strong endorsements from committee members, such as Second District Niagara County Legislator William Ross, who represents both Lewiston and the Town of Wheatfield and serves as Niagara County's representative on the Standing Committee. Ross noted the positive impacts from similar type centers built in Wheatfield and the Town of Niagara, saying they bring "lasting value" to a community.
Committee members concurred, declared the proposal to "have merit" and went on to approve it unanimously.
Another Lewiston project that went on to approval following a not consistent vote from Greenway members last month was the Lewiston-Porter School District capital improvements. Lew-Port was seeking funding approval of $6.3 million or $420,000 per year over 15 years for a host of improvements totaling $7.86 million at the high school.
"It's brick and mortar improvements," said Lew-Port Superintendent Chris Roser, who went on to detail the many projects the funding would cover. Major items include a new pool on the ground floor, a new TV broadcast studio, new areas for band and chorus activities, renovated classrooms, improved handicapped accessibility and assorted recreational and aesthetic enhancements throughout the high school. Right now "it's likened to a prison," said Roser of the late 1960s-era building. Roser noted numerous design faults found at Lew-Port.
High School Principal Paul Casseri spoke of the Lew-Port district's success in establishing international partnerships with schools throughout Europe, Asia and in South America, and said improvements to the high school could put Lew-Port even higher up on the international level with its peers, with goals of hosting a super scientific fair that could bring 300 to 400 international students. "It's an exciting project; there are secondary, tertiary opportunities to promote Lewiston-Porter on an international level," said Casseri, telling the committee that Lew-Port's improvements, like that of the Civic Center, will mean an outer extension with a positive impact to the area's economy.
Standing Committee members were of the same thought as they declared the project to have merit and went on to approve, again by an 8-0 vote.
In fact, all projects reviewed on Thursday went on to be approved in unanimous 8-0 fashion by the Standing Committee. They included: $150,000 to fund improvements at Porter on the Lake Park; $100,000 to enable reconstruction of the Haseley Einhaus (an all-in-one house barn) for the Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York, located in the German Heritage Museum in Bergholz; $70,000 for a Town of Wilson harbor revitalization project; and $43,000 for ongoing Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration activities planned for Fort Niagara, Youngstown and Lewiston in December.