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Officials break ground at LaSalle park; Area to provide Falls residents with access to waterfront

LaSalle makes up a distinct part of this city's fabric. Home to its only branch library, a community organization and proud, vocal residents, the neighborhood has been missing one key component.

A park where residents will finally have access to the undeveloped shoreline along the Niagara River.

"The LaSalle neighborhood has rediscovered itself," Mayor Paul A. Dyster said Monday in LaSalle Waterfront Park. "It's rediscovered its history, which is a history that is closely linked with the waterfront."

Dyster joined State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, who represents the Falls, and other local and state officials Monday to officially break ground on the park, though chainsaws and wood chippers were blaring even before the golden shovels broke through the sod.

The result will be a park where residents can eat lunch on shaded park benches, fish off a floating dock or walk at river's edge atop a cantilevered deck. Others can relax in a gazebo, play games in the grass or ride a bike on an existing river trail.

Located along Buffalo Avenue, the park is just east of the north Grand Island Bridge. The large, blue span sits to the right of the water's edge at the park. Currently, a bumpy parking area gives way to grass, weeds and the river.

Festivals have been held at nearby Griffon Park to draw more residents and visitors to the waterfront, and though the city is surrounded on two sides by water, there are "relatively few" public waterfront sites, Dyster said.

"We were missing one thing," Dyster said. "We were missing a centerpiece. We were missing that one public space where the people of this neighborhood and the people that are visiting this neighborhood from other parts of the city or from other parts of the region could come and gain access to the water."

The land was once the home of the Century Club, an Italian-American social organization. The city tore down the Century Club building in 1995 after it was destroyed by fire.

The city has owned the roughly 2-acre parcel for two decades, and various plans for the land -- including a marina, a hotel and apartments -- have failed. Dyster on Monday mentioned that one developer's plan included building an economy hotel facing the road with dumpsters along the water.

The undeveloped land was designated as a park in 2008. Residents have used it informally, and officials have now asked residents to limit their use during construction to the bike and walking path up the river.

Senior planner Thomas J. DeSantis said Dyster spearheaded the park's rebirth.

"Mayor Dyster came in and said, 'We're not gonna try to sell the property,' " DeSantis said. "We're going to build a park here. This is what people want. This is the right thing to do. From that point on, we chased funds down to get things started and now we're in construction."

Dyster gave credit to the LaSalle residents who banded together to push for Greenway funding and urged city officials to develop the area.

"I spent my whole life here," said LaSalle resident John J. Mikula, who spearheaded the revival. "We don't have a park on the river here. I'm so happy."

DeSantis hailed the park as the second-most important waterfront asset in the area after the boat launch at Griffon Park. It also will act as the eastern trail head for the upper river trail, a multiuse path planners hope will run along the upper Niagara River.

"It's an important activity node and it's going to be a lot more popular when we get some actual trees, grass and other things there."

The city will discourage kayaking or canoeing downstream because of the area's proximity to prohibited zones, but the point could serve as an end for kayakers traveling upstream, Dyster said.

Plans include an expansion of an existing restroom facility for storage. While no permanent vending facility will be built, mobile vendors could weave through the park roads, said Mark V. Mistretta of Wendel Companies.

The first, major phase of construction is expected to be completed in the next few months, officials said, and that phase will be funded by $850,000 in Niagara River Greenway funds, $395,000 from state and Environmental Protection Fund grants and $66,000 from the city.

The project's first phase will include construction of the gazebo, deck, floating dock, grassy space, boulder area and environmentally friendly porous parking lot.

The project's second phase, set to begin next year, is dependent on another $300,000 in Environmental Protection Fund and Greenway money. That phase would include the planting of trees and perennials.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com

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