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CHURCH GROUP ISSUES CALL FOR IMPROVEMENTS ON RIVERWALK

A grass-roots organization consisting of more than 20 Buffalo churches called on public officials Saturday to make improvements to Riverwalk -- improvements the chairman of the Erie County Legislature said are under way already.

About 120 people attended a public meeting in St. John's-Grace Episcopal Church on Colonial Circle. The meeting was sponsored by Voice Buffalo, a faith-based organization, to hear concerns about the three-mile portion of the Riverwalk within the city.

"This section is in deplorable condition," said Vince Coppola, chairman of Voice Buffalo's Riverwalk Action Team. "The lack of care is appalling. It is an embarrasment to our region."

Coppola said that section of Riverwalk also is dangerous.

"One of the most dangerous aspects is the lack of security," he said. "A woman from one of our member churches was attacked and beaten unconscious on a sunny afternoon."

Coppola said Voice Buffalo has compiled a list of a myriad deficiencies, and the group is looking to sit down with local officials to "get the job done."

"We are determined to pursue all avenues," he said. "The job must get done."

Also on hand for the meeting were several public officials, including Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo; County Legislators Albert DeBenedetti and Judith P. Fisher; and Buffalo Common Council Member at Large Barbra A. Kavanaugh.

In a slide show, Carol Brothers of St. John's-Grace Episcopal Church, pointed out the poor condition of the the three-mile portion of Riverwalk.

"That is unacceptable to us," she said. "We are committed to making this section as safe and attractive as the other ends. Today is the first step and only the beginning. Stay tuned."

DeBenedetti said the county is committed to dealing with the problems.

"We've been working on making some significant improvements," he said, adding that security would be beefed up with the patrols by both the Sheriff's Department and park rangers.

"We've been listening, and we've been paying attention," DeBenedetti said. "You held us accountable, and now we are responding."

Coppola likened the Riverwalk to a sandwich.

"Even if the bread on the outside is fresh and tasty, if the meat inside is spoiled and rotten, you won't eat it," he said.

He compared Isle View Park in the City of Tonawanda and Erie Basin Marina to slices of bread making up the outside of the sandwich, with much of the rest of the city's portion constituting the "spoiled, rotten part" in between.

Erie County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, who also was at the meeting, said afterward that the county is in the second year of a three-year plan to upgrade the section.

He added that next year, the county would authorize from $250,000 to $350,000 to renovate the portion of the recreational pathway beginning in January 2000.

He said the work will include fence replacement, bridge repair, surface repairs, sealing the bicycle path, and new park benches and garbage cans, among other improvements.

"By the summer of the Year 2000, the entire Riverwalk from the (Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park) to the Seymour Bridge in the Town of Tonawanda will be completely renovated," Swanick said, adding that the total project cost is pegged at $750,000 to $1 million.

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