By David Yarger
This past Saturday, residents of North Tonawanda had the chance to look at possible downtown restoration projects. They also had the opportunity to vote on which of the seven proposed projects they felt was top priority (one through four).
Back in October of 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that North Tonawanda would receive $2.5 million as part of a $20 million Smart Growth Community Fund. There is approximately $1.4 million in funds available for the NT MomeNTum Downtown Placemaking project. Seven projects were listed, but due to costs, every single one couldn't be managed. In turn, this is why residents were asked to voice their opinions and vote for what they felt was top priority.
The projects, with explanations from a handout, included:
Oliver Street Bike Lanes
•Oliver Street is currently a state-designated bike route, though there are no provisions for cyclists. This project would provide signage and painted bicycle lanes for the safety of cyclists and as a traffic calming measure. Parallel parking on the east side of Oliver Street would be removed. The estimated cost is $90,000.
Webster Street Improvements
•Adding bumpouts at intersections shortens crosswalks. Also, pedestrian crossing signals create a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere for patrons of local businesses. Street trees and benches also improve the appearance of the corridor. The estimated cost is $614,000.
Manhattan Street/Riviera Theatre Pedestrian Access
•First-time visitors to businesses on Webster Street are often not aware of the numerous parking spaces available nearby off Manhattan Street. By making the existing pedestrian walkway between the parking lot and the Riviera Theatre more visible and providing improved signage and lighting, visitors are more likely to find and utilize the Manhattan Street parking area. The estimated cost is $160,000.
Main Street Gateway Area
•Many visitors to the NT central business district come over the Main Street bridge. Unfortunately, this area lacks visual appeal due to building removals and overly wide paving. This project would narrow the paving, add green space on the west side, add bumpouts and enhanced crosswalks, as well as additional trees. The estimated cost is $293,000.
•These are the gateways located at intersections where major traffic volumes come to visit the central business district. The feature gateway development will create awareness of and directions to the central business for out-of-area visitors. Each sign would cost $15,000. With the plan for four signs, the cost would be $60,000.
•These are gateways located between neighborhoods and the central business district. Less prominent than the feature gateways, neighborhood gateways create awareness of the bounds for the central business district for NT residents and the occasional out-of-area visitor. The estimated cost for one sign is $10,000. With the plan for four signs, the cost would be $40,000.
Charles Fleishmann Park
•An enlargement of this existing park is proposed by expanding eastward into the existing parallel parking. Traffic is deflected north of the park to reduce the angle of the intersection. Park improvements include a prominent clock tower, benches, decorative plantings and an informational kiosk. The estimated cost is $400,000.
Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect, PC, consultant team for the restoration projects, was in attendance to speak with residents about the projects.
"(They're) all really great projects in their own right, and we'd love to be able to do them all, and the city has been actively looking at where they could leverage additional funds to keep as much of all the projects as possible," Kuebler said.
Kuebler said the turnout seemed positive and people are happy to hear restoration efforts coming to the downtown corridor. Kuebler is also a North Tonawanda resident herself, and said it's important to see downtown look its best and grow.
"It's vital to our long term economic growth," Kuebler said. "If we looked at 20 years ago, where before Gateway Park was built and it was sort of the pinnacle park and just sort of had a couple picnic benches. We had the canal and the riverfront, but we didn't have anybody other than locals in those spaces. ... It was mostly a local downtown.
"In that space of 20 years in investment, the park and the Webster Street improvement that we've made to date, we've now have moved well beyond a locals only environment. ... The improvements we've made on Webster Street are really supporting that synergy between a visitor coming and a visitor staying. ... There's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and I think it resonates with the visitors when we have them come."
Kuebler added that City of Tonawanda just received its Smart Growth grant, which will only enhance the region, which is vastly improving. Kuebler said there could be "off the charts possibilities."
Those looking for further information can call Dan Sundell at 716-695-1987 or email [email protected]