Christine Sanborn envisions green parkland along Buffalo Avenue on clean land where vacant industrial buildings stand today.
She realizes that vision may take a while.
"It's such a new challenge for all of us who live in former industrial cities," said Sanborn, a Niagara Falls native who now lives in Grand Island. "It is depressing and disappointing, but I certainly understand that many people have not dealt with it."
Falls officials agree with Sanborn, and they're taking the first steps toward working to revitalize properties left behind by the industrial boom.
The city will hold a public workshop Tuesday night to gather insights from residents like Sanborn about what the future should hold for roughly 1,500 acres on the city's east side near Buffalo Avenue and Niagara Street. The meeting is open to the public and will begin at 6 p.m. in St. Michael's Polish National Church meeting hall, 250 27th St.
Tuesday's meeting is part of a study the city has undertaken to create a preliminary analysis of the condition of properties in the area. The project will also develop a revitalization strategy for the neighborhood and nominate it as a state-designated Brownfield Opportunity Area. The proposed boundaries encompass an area from the Grand Island bridge to downtown that is marked by vacant industrial sites and tracts of overgrown land.
"That's such an important gateway to this area," said Alan Nusbaum, an environmental assistant for the city. "If you're going to the cataract, which is Niagara Falls itself, you're going to be driving through the Buffalo Avenue corridor. It's a very important corridor for the city, and it needs help."
The city received an $85,950 grant from the state Department of State to study the Buffalo Avenue area. There are an estimated 35 to 40 brownfield sites within the corridor.
Brownfields are vacant or underutilized parcels that are potentially contaminated by former industrial or commercial operations.
The Buffalo Avenue study is the first of three steps under the brownfield program aimed at eventually cleaning up properties for reuse.
A similar project in the industrial areas near Highland Avenue is also in progress.
The city has received a $375,000 state grant to complete the second phase of the Highland program, which calls for determining the condition of each brownfield.
The meeting Tuesday will focus on the Buffalo Avenue corridor and could help shape what the future of the neighborhood looks like. Boundaries for the area also include land on the Niagara River and the southern section of the Robert Moses Parkway.
Nusbaum said the program will help pull together information about the various sites in the corridor. The city is also asking representatives from industrial plants, like Oxy and Olin, that operate on Buffalo Avenue to participate.
"We really do need their participation," Nusbaum said. "They're very large stakeholders."
Sanborn, who maintains her Niagara Falls roots by participating in the East Side Block Club, said residents in the area are interested in its revitalization.
She believes the abandoned industrial sites are a deterrent for tourism.
"This all has to be addressed," Sanborn said. "This needs to be cleaned up."