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An investment made in modernizing the Peace Bridge area will pay off for Buffalo for many generations to come, Rep. Henry J. Nowak told Niagara Street businessmen Monday evening.

With 840,000 trucks crossing the Peace Bridge every year, it's time to redesign the U.S. Customs inspection station and move it entirely off the bridge, the Buffalo Democrat told the Niagara Gateway Association, meeting at D'Youville College.

The General Services Administration is expected to respond by April or May to a proposal submitted by Gateway Development Associates to make the area an exciting entryway to America for travelers from Canada, Nowak added.

In a slide presentation, Robert Elia, president of the firm, outlined the proposal he developed with his father, Peter Elia. The family operates Peace Bridge Cold Storage Inc. at Porter Avenue and Fourth Street.

"My father and I are in the warehouse storage business at the Peace Bridge, and he's been there for 30 years," Elia said. "Our vision is a product of the enthusiasm we have seen since our original proposal."

Two years ago, he said, the Elias noticed that the truck congestion on the Peace Bridge had prompted many international truckers to cross instead at Niagara Falls, Lewiston or Detroit. In addition to putting Buffalo in a better position to exploit the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, he said, improving the area also would boost Buffalo's image.

"What we have now is not a true representation of the city or what the symbolic act of entering the country here should be," Elia said. "On some days 50 to 60 trucks are backed up on the bridge, posing a significant traffic hazard as well as an environmental (air pollution) hazard."

The sprawling Toronto megalopolis is expanding in this direction, he said, and will eventually reach the Niagara Frontier.

"Once it does, it will be the completion of an industrial corridor -- which means jobs, businesses and new opportunities for trade between Buffalo and Canada," Elia said. "Toronto is Canada's major economic center, and Buffalo is the closest American city to an international trading center."

Dr. R. Warren Flint of the University at Buffalo said the association will develop a master plan for revitalizing Niagara Street.

"The only way to realize the potential of Niagara Street, however, is through a successful networking of all neighborhoods that are now very much isolated from one another," said Flint, who also operates the Chestnut Manor House on Porter Avenue.

"I believe that it is time we stopped looking to City Hall for the lead with regards to meeting Niagara Street's needs. We must develop a united front that can reach a consensus on how to best move the Niagara Street area into the 21st century."

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