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Opening of park in Old First Ward even is smiled upon by the heavens

The rain stopped and the clouds parted just in time for Tuesday morning's opening of the new Mutual Riverfront Park at Hamburg and South streets in the Old First Ward.

Between Valley Community Association Executive Director Margaret "Peg" Overdorf and the Rev. Donald J. Lutz, pastor of the nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, the rain didn't have a chance.

The opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting was attended by about 150 people, including neighborhood residents, city officials, people from the local companies that worked on the park, and officials of the New York Power Authority, which paid $2.3 million for the 1.3-acre park and the two buildings it contains.

The park was named for the popular Mutual Rowing Club, which operated from 1891 to the mid-1930s from a clubhouse on South Street, around the corner from the park. The two brick buildings in the park -- a boathouse for kayaks and canoes and a building that will house displays from the Waterfront Memories and More Museum -- were built with architectural touches that evoke the Mutual clubhouse.

Gil C. Quiniones, president and CEO of the Power Authority, which paid for the park after buying the 10-acre plot of land in 2009 to store the ice boom, called the park "a wonderful addition to the neighborhood, featuring a number of amenities, including a recreational boat launch, canoe and kayak storage building, a boardwalk promenade, chess tables, park benches and an open lawn area, not to mention a panoramic view of the Buffalo River and historic grain elevators."

"I know that there were a lot of stakeholders to make this happen," Quiniones said in introducing Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. "It wasn't easy to find a site for an ice boom, but he made sure that all stakeholders really pushed for and targeted to do what is called the art of the possible. And now we're here, and it's real."

Quiniones called Overdorf "this sparkplug, the catalyst in making all this happen. Her reputation as a dynamo may be too constrained in characterizing her role."

The 1.5-mile ice boom, made of linked, 30-foot-long floating steel pontoons, is installed in the fall across the Niagara River at Lake Erie to keep ice floes from clogging the intakes of the Niagara Power Project. When it is removed each spring, the boom will be stored behind a decorative wall on the site. The park's sign, which is a placed on a 15-foot-long replica of an ice boom pontoon, refers to the ice boom's presence.

"Community input helped create a beautifully landscaped park as we see it today," Overdorf said. "All of this was done with preserving the heritage of the area. The last two Great Lakes tugs, which were going to be moved, remained at their site [just offshore from the park], and now we have a beautiful view of Elevator Alley, where you can sit on the promenade and look up the river. Many times, this is a feature you'll see on Buffalo postcards."

The park also contains several interpretive signs explaining the history of the adjacent Uniontown, Elevator Alley and a local Native American known as Farmer's Brother.

Native grasses, shrubs and trees were planted along the walkways and in the bowl-shaped rain gardens, which will collect runoff. Construction work on the site was done by local companies, including Hatch Acres Corp. of Amherst and Edbauer Construction of West Seneca.

Quiniones announced that the Power Authority will work with the Valley Community Association to provide financial support for the upkeep of the park.