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88-unit complex constructed along Niagara River
By David Yarger
Those who have driven down River Road of late may have seen a massive complex being constructed across from Recreational Warehouse.
That massive complex – 600 River Road Apartments – was welcomed to the North Tonawanda community Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting held at the facility.
Several local and state elected officials joined in praising the new living facility.
The 88-unit apartment complex gives a scenic view just a few feet off the Niagara River. Along with the calming view, the apartments come loaded with over 30 features and amenities, including a playground, dog park, movie theater, pickleball courts, a 24-hour fitness center, patio and barbecue areas amongst many things.
The facility has come a long way. Back in the late 1800s, the area was used by Tonawanda Ironworks – a heavy steel producer. After years of use, once the company closed, the area was a “wasteland.”
Site owner and Rock One Development developer Lou Visone shared how he came across the complex, created a vision for it and, in the end, turned it into a reality.
“This all came about in 2011, 2012. We purchased a boat in Niagara Falls and my trailer lights weren’t quite working, and we were heading down River Road. Right out front here, there was a little handwritten sign ‘For sale by owner.’ We pulled right in, took a picture of the sign, walked the property (and) it was officially a pile of rubble. We walked way out here and saw this (waterfront view) and said ‘Wow, this could be something great,’ ” Visone said.
He added that the day after his visit, he contacted the owner, had a meeting and bought the land.
Visone praised the efforts of elected representatives, as well as local department heads: “Nobody wanted to see this thing fail. Everyone wanted it to succeed. And here we are today, four stories, 36 units in here, people already living in here."
He added that people have called the complex “like a vacation destination,” which Visone replied “could be called home.”
Construction of the remaining units is still ongoing.
North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur Pappas shared his excitement for the new development in the city. Additionally, he said the presence of Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul at the ceremony indicated that “something good is happening here.”
“I always say to everybody: ‘The only reason anyone leaves North Tonawanda is so they can come back.’ Most, or many, of them do. Now they have even more reason, because of people like Lou Visone and everybody with his staff," Pappas said.
He also touched on New York State Sen. Rob Ortt’s speech. Ortt, the former NT mayor, said Visone came into his office several times to discuss the complex.
“When you left, senator, he came into my office,” Pappas said with a laugh. “We had some great discussions. At first I thought, ‘Well, it sounds great. … Can he do it?’ Well, look around.”
Pappas added, “This project is a catalyst for the transition of this old industrial area to what eventually, it’s almost there now, down the line will be a beautiful boulevard of some kind. I know Lou is constantly looking to expand. He’s looking in other areas of our city and maybe the outskirts. But it is so refreshing and so good to hear the name of our city and our whole region, Western New York, being on the comeback for the people. … More and more, every day, all I hear is ‘North Tonawanda, our area, is on the rise.’ ”
Hochul, who will spend much of the week traveling all over New York, said she was proud to see the development come to life from what it used to be.
“This is a destination,” Hochul said. “This project is signaling that this community is alive and well and vibrant and open for business. I believe there is going to be high demand for projects like this along the waterfront, because this is truly one of our premier locations in Western New York: this magnificent waterfront that was overlooked for decades.”
Hochul praised Visone for his work in turning the former wasteland into a premier complex and having a vision to transform part of North Tonawanda.
“This is what it takes. It takes someone to say ‘I can transform this into a place people want to live and congregate and build their lives.’ We’ve accomplished that today. … I’m proud that the state was able to step up with an initial $600,000 for the Department of State to start the cleanup around 2014, 2015. This land had to be remediated. You would not want to walk on the land the way it was before. Also, $2 million in brownfield tax credits; a program that is literally changing the landscape across the state of New York,” Hochul said.
She added, “I’m so proud of my hometown. I’m so proud to see this resurgence. I’m not the only one that recognizes this.”
Ortt discussed his conversations with Visone during his time as North Tonawanda mayor and how the times are changing for the best in the city.
“I remember when I was in my office and Lou came in, probably seven years ago, sat down and said ‘I bought this property.’ I said, ‘That’s great.’ At this time, no one was really buying property on the river. The focus at that time was still downtown. … Everybody wanted to be in that section. … I remember we both talked about something that would act as an economic engine. You could build all kinds of restaurants and commercial ventures, but you have to have people to support those ventures. This is going to make a lot of other investment in North Tonawanda possible. All the folks who are going to be living here – that’s a market,” Ortt said.
Ortt noted Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill is moving near the new living facility and said, “That’s not an accident that they’re putting a restaurant and a brewery right next to where they’re going to have 88 units full of people who want to go to restaurants and breweries.”
“When you look around Western New York, there’s a lot of good things happening in Buffalo. But outside of the City of Buffalo, I would argue that the biggest renaissance, the biggest improvement, the most development, has occurred in North Tonawanda, as far as transforming what NT used to be to what it is today,” Ortt added.
New York State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello praised the vision of the development and the togetherness between Visone, elected officials and his staff.
“Lt. Gov. Hochul said it well. She talked about a team effort. You have to have team effort with a vision. Let's go back to approximately 2015, when the brownfield reclamation credit program was due to end. Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo decided it was too important that we continue the program to clean up all of the industrial (waste) that was left behind when the industry just walked away from the area. That allowed this project to go forward and the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) played an instrumental part working with the governor’s office at that point to map out and organize ‘How do we clean up an industrial field site that had one of the largest furnaces for producing steel in the country,' ” Morinello said.
He added that Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River were deemed dead at one point due to the industrial waste left behind.
Niagara County Legislator Rich Andres also praised Visone and said NT is open for even more development.
“Lou Visone got mentioned as a visionary. He’s not a visionary because he thought, ‘Boy, wouldn’t people like to live along the water. That would be a remarkable thing.’ He’s a visionary because (he said), ‘Wouldn’t people like to live along the water in North Tonawanda.’ That’s something that hadn’t been done. It’s something that certainly this stretch of River Road could certainly use, and now we have the first of what I hope are many developments along the water,” Andres said.
The $20 million investment by Visone is currently open for those interested in leasing. A release from the developers said the facility “Will be a resort-like destination redefining the Niagara River waterfront community, combing modern quality with historic perfection.”
For more information regarding the 600 River Road Apartments, visit www.600river.com.
New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony at 600 River Road Apartments.
NYS Assemblyman Angelo Morinello
NYS Sen. Rob Ortt
North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur Pappas
600 River Road Apartments developer Lou Visone
A view from behind one of the 600 River Road Apartments complexes.