By David Yarger
2018 was an interesting year. Residents in the Town of Wheatfield, Town of Niagara and City of North Tonawanda all saw their municipality change in some type of way, but now that 2018 is soon turning into 2019, it’s time to start fresh.
The Tribune recently discussed the accomplishments of 2018 and goals for 2019 with Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Don MacSwan, Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee Wallace and City of North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur Pappas.
All three were proud of progress that their municipalities had made and were excited to see what 2019 brings to the table.
Town of Niagara
The Town of Niagara and Wallace stayed busy this year, as much was accomplished. In looking back at 2018, Wallace noted several things he was proud of that occurred throughout the town.
The town came up with a draft for a comprehensive plan – a document in the town that had not been updated in quite some time. Wallace called the plan “a working document for the town to use as a guide for future development and guidance. (It’s) almost finished and will be adopted in early 2019.”
Wallace also mentioned the old U.S. Army Reserve site off Porter Road should be in town possession in the early going of 2019. Seventeen acres of the property will be sold to Reger LLC and the town will retain 3-plus acres, which will be the future site of the WNY First Response and Preparedness Center. The site would house Mercy Flight, the Niagara County Emergency Operations Center, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit and the Niagara Crime Analysis Center.
The Grenga property along Military Road should also be extinct come mid- to late-spring of 2019 Wallace added. The town owns the “eyesore” site and has a contract with a company to tear it down once some environmental issues are addressed.
The town, in conjunction with the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, agreed to acquire and restore a section of 30 acres along Cayuga Creek. The restoration will reduce flooding issues in the area of Tuscarora Road and Roberts Drive, better known as the Weber property. Wallace said the town is in the process of soliciting bids for the design portion of the property. Once that is completed, the project will get underway in mid-to-late summer.
The town also expects the Fourth Avenue pathway, which will see a walking path from Royal Park Apartments to Military Road, to be completed by the end of 2019.
Wallace also mentioned that phase III of the Veterans Memorial Community Park Master Plan will begin in the spring of 2019. The phase includes the construction of a building to hold bathrooms, concessions and storage near the east end of the park, as well as a community meeting place with fire pits.
Amongst other things, Wallace was also proud of the town’s upgrades regarding road paving, as well as events such as the fifth annual Neaten Up Niagara, which cleans up areas of the town; the second annual Trash to Treasure event, which was held at the park in June; the bigger and better “Music Mania Mondays” concert series, the veterans dinner and the expanded Noel at Niagara holiday light show throughout the park, which included light standards purchased from the United Way.
Town of Wheatfield
In his first year as Town Supervisor, MacSwan and company worked constantly to help better the lives of residents in the Town of Wheatfield.
MacSwan has worked in the town for years, but said it was definitely quite the transition into the supervisor’s role.
“I enjoy the job,” he said. “There’s more pressure than I expected, but I do enjoy it. It’s a great job. … I’ve had good feedback, I’ve had great feedback and I feel good or bad, I’ve given them (the residents) 100 percent. I don’t think anyone can ask for more than that. … I’m trying to be fair with people, I’m honest and I do what I can to help people, within the town realm.”
MacSwan added that having 30-plus years of experience in the town definitely helped his transition, but what surprised him was all of the different roles that a supervisor takes over and that all of those roles are very diverse.
“Everyday it’s something,” he said. “More than anything, … this is much more diversified. You come in here and all of a sudden something comes from left field and you’re like, ‘Whoa, where’d that come from?’ I think that, more than anything, surprised me. Being supervisor, your roles are more diverse and extensive. … You gotta put your cap on for all these things.”
MacSwan also praised the working relationship between he and the town department heads and said, “I can’t say a negative word about them. I’m blessed to have such great department heads.” MacSwan added that he and the department heads have monthly meetings, which has improved work flow very much.
One question MacSwan will have to face heading into 2019 is the status of the vacant Summit Park Mall. Despite the empty scene, as Sears and The Bon Ton closed doors late this summer, MacSwan remained positive about the Williams Road complex heading into 2019.
“I have a feeling, and just from meeting with the owners, I think this Big Thunder (Brewing) is going to happen. The engineers were in here and they were back at the Planning Board at the last meeting. I think you’re going to see that happen, and I think they’re going to start looking at the soccer fields (Niagara International Sports & Entertainment) and the baseball fields,” MacSwan said. MacSwan added that Neal Turvey was brought on as a local representative to help ideas for the mall. Turvey received praise from MacSwan for the work he’s been able to accomplish around WNY.
“I have a feeling you’re going to see something happen next year. … We’re going to meet with mall owners, at least every three months, and they were thrilled about that,” MacSwan said.
A focus group for redevelopment of the mall has also been established in the town, which MacSwan said drew the interest of Zoran Cocov, Summit Mall owner, because it shows the town really wants something to happen at the location.
In addition to the mall, MacSwan talked about switching the town’s lighting to LED. He added that making the switch could save the town big money down the line. Three different strands of LED lights are currently being studied and inspected by the town on its Town Hall campus.
Amongst other things, MacSwan expected a groundbreaking for the Pellicano’s expansion sometime soon in 2019. In addition, MacSwan spoke highly of the town’s efforts to create a disaster preparedness active plan in case something catastrophic happens in the town. He said it’s a good thing to have in place because you never know.
MacSwan added the town is also looking forward to the construction of a Greenway trail from the Niagara Falls to the North Tonawanda line.
City of North Tonawanda
North Tonawanda also kept busy this past year. Pappas and company recorded several accomplishments, and also hosted entertaining events, as well.
The year started off with a dedication. The city dedicated the section of Vandervoort Street, from Keil Street to Robinson Street as Hope Way, indicating the hopes of expanding and the improvements done to the area.
At the dedication, Pappas said, "Everywhere around us you see the word 'hope,' you hear the word 'hope,' over and over today. When you think of the word 'hope,' you think 'what is hope, but a desired outcome.' We're looking for a desired outcome or outcomes for certain things, with the expectations that we're going to get them. We're going to get what we want, because they're the right things to be doing.
"There has been hope along the way. Hope constantly to, eventually, (get) the Hope Way. And here we are today with Hope Way, with the desire, the expectation, that all the things we are now hoping for, praying for, that are desirable for our youth and community; we're going to go even further. This community is only going to get stronger because of hope and hope along the way."
North Tonawanda is also the home of a new community garden, as volunteers gathered to help set it up on the 200 block of Sommer Street.
The new community garden will give those in need in the neighborhood a source to acquire nutritious vegetables for their families. The garden will also provide around $3,000 worth of vegetables to local soup kitchens and food pantries.
Also, back in October, 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 the 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 Common Council along with the North Tonawanda City School District moved to execute a school resource officer agreement, which will post a city police officer in the district to "provide law enforcement presence in the school district in order to promote and provide an atmosphere of enhanced school safety for faculty, staff, students and school visitors."
The city also showcased its brand-new Children’s Memorial Garden right outside the City Hall complex.
The Children's Memorial Garden – in planning for over a year – began as an initial proposal by Pappas and his wife, Linda. The project benefitted greatly with a grant allocation through Ortt's office in the amount of $50,000. Schimminger contributed $42,000, as well as additional funds donated by the Rotary Club of the Tonawandas in the amount of $7,500.
The Children's Memorial Garden will be a place of somber reflection displaying the names of the children of the city who have passed. Completion of the memorial is expected within the next year.
Late in 2018, DeGraff Memorial Hospital cut the ribbon to its new $7.8 million emergency department.
Amongst other things, the city also cut the ribbon to a new band shell at Raymond Klimek Veterans Memorial Park. Also, the city hosted its Thursdays on the Water concert series at Gratwick Park, as well as the Thunder on the Niagara boat show. The Lumber City Winter Walk was also a big hit around the holidays for kids and families alike.