By Benjamin Joe
North Tonawanda’s Common Council Meeting began with the “State of the City” address by Mayor Arthur Pappas. The subjects of focus for the address included development, jobs, highway and water projects, as well as the bail and discovery/speedy trial reform laws enacted at the beginning of the year by the state.
Before reading from the 13-page document, Pappas asked the audience to get comfortable.
“This is quite lengthy this year, so I’m asking you to make yourself comfortable and to bear with it, because it is lengthy,” he said.
Some of the items Pappas highlighted were developments in downtown and waterfront properties.
“At 600 River Road, a $20 million investment brought four residential buildings with a total of 88 new housing units that have been completed and are partially occupied. This has begun to change the perception of North Tonawanda’s waterfront from a former industrial corridor to the potential for a vibrant, livable waterfront community,” he read.
Pappas continued on another major thread in the city: businesses and jobs.
Pappas said, “New businesses opened in the downtown area including Prosper Brewing, Just Say Cheesecake, McGirr’s and Millennium Microsystems. Growth continued on Oliver Street, as well, with the opening of Buffalo Wings & Brewhouse, Brownie’s Sports Bar & Tavern, Old Editions Bookstore, as well as Matt’s Music that underwent a $350,000 remodeling and addition, which has been completed. On Division Street, the National Bowling Store has opened their new location. Right next door, Frank Budwey opened his new banquet facility, Buducci’s.”
Pappas said, “Woodcock Brothers Brewing Company opened in North Tonawanda in 2019 at the historic Wurlitzer Building. The company brought over 40 jobs to the area. Along with Platter’s Chocolates and the Events at Wurlitzer banquet facility, Woodcock Brothers has helped make the iconic Wurlitzer Building a destination in Niagara County and North Tonawanda.”
Pappas touched on other projects in the area, the former Grant school and the former Colonel Payne School being converted into apartment buildings, a new winery on Erie Avenue, as well as Griffin Chemical making major renovations to their space also on Erie Avenue. Pappas said Griffin’s $300,000 project could create four to six new jobs and could also qualify for a New York State Community Renewal Grant. Pappas also let the public know about plans for a Spot Coffee, which have been “received, reviewed and approved” for a North Tonawanda location.
“The projects and improvements continue into 2020,” Pappas read. “Leading these projects will be the new city engineer, Chelsea Spahr. Chelsea has been the assistant city engineer for almost three years and will do a phenomenal job taking over for Dale (Marshal).”
Some of the projects Spahr will be leading are:
•The Main Street Green Infrastructure Improvements – these include road reconstruction with a narrowing pavement, structural soils and street trees in the terrace, rain gardens and street lighting.
•The Downtown Placemaking – include bumpouts at crosswalks for better walkability in the downtown corridor, expansion of the Charles Fleischman Park, and new signage and lighting improvements.
•The Pedestrian Safety Action Plan – include new pedestrian signals, crosswalks and Americans with Disabilities Act ramps at the intersections of Main and Tremont Streets, Main and Goundry Streets, Goundry and Webster and Payne and 16th avenues.
Other projects include the connection of the bike path on River Road to the New York State Empire State Trail, and repurposing to be done on Nash Road and Meadow Drive.
“The Parks and Recreation Department, led by director Alex Domaradzki, has gotten much accomplished in 2019,” Pappas continued. “Deerwood Golf Course was something that needed to be addressed in 2019. Heading into this year, the main goal was to make the course more accessible to the public. Led by Bob Kania, our front-end operations golf supervisor, leagues were consolidated onto two courses and leave the third course open for the general public.”
Improvements to the greens included new sprinkler heads and satellites, which were done in-house – saving funds – sand trap improvements, the purchase of a new green sprayer and changing up the treatment protocol for fertilization and fungicide treatment, Pappas said.
Other projects falling under the Recreation Department were:
•The opportunity for ice skating at the far southwest corner of Pinewoods Park, as well as the non-bordered ice rink at Cramer Park.
•The installation of a trailer-parking kiosk at Gratwick Park that gives boats the option of purchasing tickets at $5 per day; providing additional revenue.
•Two portable ADA bathroom trailers and two pavilions to be added to Gratwick Park by fall of 2020 made possible by $316,000 in grant funds allocated through the Niagara River Greenway Committee
•A playground at Mayor’s Park installed in the summer of 2019, the funds for which were raised by local businesses, organizations and individuals to the tune of $16,000 – $6,000 more than the $10,000 matching requirements. The final cost of the playground was over $200,000. Donated funds are being used for upkeep of the park.
•The Children’s Remembrance Gardenwalk continues to be a place for “remembrance and contemplation.” In December, a candle-lighting service was held in the memory of a lost child.
“Anyone wishing to memorialize a lost child in the Gardenwalk may still do so by contacting the mayor’s office,” Pappas said.
Another topic explored by Pappas was community involvement. This included the efforts of the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens Organization, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, and even the Western New York Disc Golf Club to beautify, restore and clean-up, respectively, for the City of North Tonawanda, all of which Pappas was not bashful to note in the address.
“The Carnegie Art Center has really developed over the past few years into the goal as a respected cultural and arts center,” he said. “They hold events such as jazz concerts, artist exhibitions, children’s classes, as well as programming and special events. This year, the fifth annual ‘Art Off The Wall’ art sale and fundraiser provided funds for the center and these events.”
Pappas also celebrated the work of Michelle Bernas, the new youth program coordinator; Diane Sheehan, who runs the Youth Court and First Offender Program in collaboration with Juvenile Aid Lt. Detective Michelle Day; and Pam Hogan who leads the Adult Recreation and Senior Recreation programs.
In terms of infrastructure, Pappas said the drinking water in North Tonawanda “had no violations” after an inspection was conducted. The Water/Wastewater Department, under Bill Davignon, secured a $1.8 million Water Infrastructure Improvement Act grant for the installation of a new generator to be completed in late 2020. Other improvements at the Wastewater Treatment Plant included the installation of the West Storm Water Mechanical Bar Screen, a Raw Sewage Sludge Pump and a new Ferric Chloride chemical system.
Pappas commended the work done by the DPW, paving 1.8 miles of road in 2019, headed by Mark Zellner.
He also praised the equally important infrastructure of protection provided by the City of North Tonawanda Police Department and its head, Chief Roger Zgolak.
One of the steps taken to fight the “current opioid drug and overdose crisis,” Pappas said, was the outfitting of NARCAN, the overdose-reversing drug, to everyone in the police department, along with training to save lives with its use.
The “State of the City” was not, however, all highs. Pappas addressed the controversy law enforcement agencies find themselves embroiled in this year.
“As the department enters the new year, it faces a number of changes to the criminal justice system as bail reform and speedy trial/discovery legislation has changed the way that law enforcement conducts business on a daily basis. This is not unique to North Tonawanda, but is a challenge faced by police throughout the state. We will strive to overcome these challenges and continue to uphold the law of the state of New York to ensure the continued safety and security of our citizens and our community,” Pappas said.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve as your mayor, and I look forward to continuing moving this city forward,” Pappas said.