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Downtown development plan gets boost

Dreams for redeveloping downtown started to come alive during a public forum that drew about 100 people to City Hall earlier this month.

"It was a public visioning session," said James Sullivan, director of the city's Community Development Department. "It was great."

The department, along with the Lumber City Development Corp., is organizing the downtown redevelopment project.

Sullivan said residents were broken up into groups to examine each aspect of the plan, which calls for redevelopment on Oliver, Main, Webster and Sweeney streets.

The plan is currently in draft form, but it includes a mix of retail, office space, housing and improved signage, as well as a display map at Gateway Harbor. The harbor area is currently the site of the community's popular Molson Canal Concert Series and several small shops.

Organizers would like to see an increase in the small businesses and the inclusion of high-end restaurants that complement the boating theme of the area.

"The plan itself consists of the types of things that could be done to improve the area as it relates to tourism, boaters, commercial establishments and residents," Sullivan said. "We're just trying to find ways we can better serve the area, especially in the summer when we have the boat crowd."

On Webster Street, fine-dining restaurants, improvements to current buildings and entertainment are envisioned, possibly featuring a blues club. Main Street would feature improved signs, landscaping and streetscaping and more retail stores.

Buffalo Bolt Business Park, an industrial complex, is planned for Oliver Street, in addition to an increase in retail establishments. Improved streetscape and housing are also planned.

Mayor Lawrence V. Soos, who is on the Lumber City Development Corp. board and owns Soos Cafe on Oliver Street, said the changes in the downtown area will be a good thing for the city. He said the complex planned for Oliver Street could improve trade for existing business owners.

To help bring the vision to life, the plan calls for financial incentives to support current businesses and to recruit new ones.

Organizers are currently finishing the application process for the community development block grant program through the state Office of Small Cities. The $650,000 grant would be used to start streetscape improvements and for the financial incentives.

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