by Joshua Maloni
Gary Hall's mission is clear: The Waste Technology Services president and CEO wants to build a new recreation center for the Lewiston community - its children, in particular. But Hall doesn't want to finance the $2 million project at the expense of village residents, who asked him Monday night to relocate the project from its planned site behind the Red Brick Municipal Building on Onondaga Street.
Neighbors expressed concern over the size of the building, its operational cost to taxpayers, and its environmental impact. Following former Mayor Richard Soluri's Johnnie Cochran-inspired comment, "If it doesn't fit, you don't permit," Hall said, "I certainly don't want to do anything the local folks don't want. That's not my intention."
Following a second wave of comments, Hall conceded, "I would never do this if you don't want it here. We'll find a better place to do it."
When Mayor Terry Collesano asked the audience of about 60 if they would prefer a new location for the recreation center (he proposes the Artpark plateau), they clapped vigorously in approval.
Soluri said building a recreation center on top of the park dedicated to former Mayor Marilyn Toohey would dishonor her legacy.
Resident Eva Nicklas said, "I am not opposed to smart growth or development - and I like the idea of a sports complex - but I am dead set against developing any green space."
Her friend and Lewiston Council on the Arts colleague Tim Henderson said, "A recreation center is probably a good idea - just not here."
Hall wants to create an indoor facility capable of offering tennis, soccer, basketball and professional coaching.
"I just think it's really important to support our local community," he said. Later, Hall added, "I just think it's important to have a place for the kids to stay active."
In addition to the plateau, Hall mentioned the Pletcher Road park area across from Stella Niagara as a possible relocation site. Residents suggested he also consider the Lewiston-Porter campus and Frontier Lanes.
Following the meeting, Hall appeared disappointed, but said he was comfortable with the comments. He said the discussion was productive, and he is "absolutely" actively moving forward.
"From prior meetings with the folks, I didn't realize that folks felt so strongly about this location, and once I did, it was a pretty easy decision," he said.
Hall offered to provide the full funding (via himself and partners) for the Onondaga Street recreation center, which would've been a stone's throw from his North Second Street office.
"We didn't want it to be a burden on the taxpayers," Hall said.
When asked if the project was contingent on finding a site in the Village of Lewiston, he said, "I'm going to look elsewhere. I'm not sure. It's going to be in the area, though. I'm not sure if it's going to be maybe in the village or in the town. We'll have to wait and see. We'll have to really find the best location going forward here.
"Quite honestly, I was hopeful to have the plans complete and to begin construction in the spring, because I'd like it to be fully operational by about the first of November of next year. That's my goal."
With regard to the other locations mentioned as a site for the recreation center, Hall said, "The plateau doesn't have any infrastructure. There's no electricity; there's no water; there's no roads. I guess there would be plenty of parking, but that would have to be added to it."
"There were other locations that I thought of, like down on Pletcher Road in the town, across from Stella Niagara," he said. "Looks like there's plenty of space and plenty of parking out there. But, it's in the town; it's not the village. I'd probably need to talk to another group of folks to make that happen."
Residents expressed concern over what the building would cost once it's open. Hall doesn't have a business plan, but previously said he doesn't intend to own the building. He would work with the village to create a management team.
"The biggest concern I had was how do we make it sustainable," Hall said. He suggested implementing fees similar to what other indoor recreation facilities charge users. Such dues would cover the building's maintenance and management costs.
To those in the audience who were dismayed about paying to use the recreation center, Hall said, "I don't want to turn anyone away who can't afford it."
Soluri said the village should work with the Town of Lewiston - if not the Town of Porter and Village of Youngstown, too - to offset operational costs.
Collesano said Hall was looking to build in the Village of Lewiston because, "this is the center of the population of the area."
"Gary was looking to do something to support his local community. ... We'd still like to have it in the village," he said.
News and Notes
•Also at Monday's Village Board meeting, trustees approved the site plan for 904-908 Center St., which will be remodeled and converted into offices for the Niagara Family Medicine Group.
•The board approved the closing of Center Street (from Fourth to Sixth streets) for the Lewiston Garden Club's GardenFest on June 23-24, 2012. Trustees tabled the motion in October, seeking more time to review recommendations from Collesano's ad hoc committee.
The mayor said the village was essentially doing all of the things the committee suggested, but will ensure additional steps are taken to keep business owners and residents informed as to when and why Center Street is closed.
•Trustees are looking into adding parking spaces around Academy Park. New spaces along the Hibbard's Liquor/Lewiston Computer/Deal Realty/Lewiston Animal Hospital/Warren's Hardware corridor would face the park and the businesses.
•The board tabled a motion to increase water and sewer rates pending an analysis of what other local municipalities charge residents.