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Funding OK'd for Falls projects Relicensing committee approves money for traffic circle, park lighting improvements

New lighting for a city park and planned improvements to a downtown traffic circle to help commemorate an upcoming international event received funding approval Thursday from a committee overseeing relicensing funds from the New York Power Authority.

The City of Niagara Falls' proposals earned unanimous endorsements from the Host Community Standing Committee, an eight-member group of local governments, school districts and the Power Authority, during a meeting in the Niagara County Center for Economic Development.

The proposal to enhance the roundabout on Rainbow Boulevard, to be known as Centennial Circle, will receive $335,000. The committee also granted $101,790 for plans to add electrical service and lighting at Gill Creek Park, located near the corner of 32nd and Niagara streets.

Both projects had previously received the endorsement of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, the body that developed a 2007 master plan for a Buffalo-to-Youngstown trails and parks system.

Improvements to the downtown traffic circle will include a major public art element, according to the city's plans. Officials hope to announce the selection of an artist for the project by June, when the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Boundary Waters Treaty is celebrated across the Niagara River corridor in the United States and Canada.

Various elements of improvements to Gill Creek Park, including the lighting, will remain in the planning phase this year, and will be part of a series of proposed capital projects in 2010, said Thomas J. DeSantis, the city's senior planner.

"This is clearly a long-term proposal," DeSantis said of the park project, "but you begin where you have assets."

The city wants to install lighting at the park because vandalism has become a problem there, said Sherry L. Shepherd-Corulli, who works in the city's Purchasing Department and manages grants.

"There is very poor, very poor lighting in that area," Shepherd-Corulli said.

The budget for the project consists of $10,000 for planning costs, nearly $82,000 for construction and $10,000 for administration costs.

City officials said they are eventually looking to connect the seven-acre Gill Creek Park with Hyde Park about a half-mile away.

Plans to improve the Rainbow Boulevard roundabout include signage and interpretive plaques that will explain the public art project and the Boundary Waters Treaty the artwork will commemorate.

The 1909 treaty, among other things, established the International Joint Commission, which manages boundary waters between the United States and Canada.

The budget for the project totals $435,000 but includes $50,000 in city funds and $50,000 from USA Niagara Development Corp., an arm of Empire State Development, in addition to the Host Community fund money.

Estimated costs for landscaping, irrigation and sidewalk displays total $135,000, according to city figures. The spending plan calls for $250,000 for the artwork, including $50,000 for the selection process, $125,000 for the artist's fee and $75,000 for site work, installation and lighting. Design and construction oversight for the project has an estimated cost of $50,000.

In 2006, the state Department of Transportation completed a project on Rainbow Boulevard that removed some traffic lanes, widened sidewalks and added the traffic circle.

The Host Community Standing Committee consists of eight members: the Power Authority, along with the seven members of the Niagara Power Coalition -- the city of Niagara Falls, Niagara County, the towns of Lewiston and Niagara, as well as the Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lewiston-Porter school districts.

The committee controls $3 million in annual funding as part of a settlement agreement involving the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston between local municipalities and school districts and the Power Authority.

An agreement among Power Coalition members divides the annual $3 million fund among the members as follows: Niagara Falls and Lewiston, $510,000 each; Lewiston-Porter and Niagara Falls schools, $420,000; Niagara County and the Town of Niagara, $390,000; Niagara-Wheatfield Schools, $360,000.

Approval from the committee was required before Niagara Falls could begin using its money for these projects.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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