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Renewal in LaSalle; Development of new waterfront park puts Greenway funds to good use

There are few better ways to spend Niagara River Greenway money than development of the LaSalle Waterfront Park in Niagara Falls.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster and Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and other local and state officials recently broke ground on the park, the satisfying end to a long road.

And while elected officials, especially Dyster, deserve credit for the rebirth of a park that had fallen into disrepair, its development into a community asset belongs first and foremost to its members. In particular, resident John J. Mikula, who spearheaded the revival and to whom Dyster gives much credit.

The result will be a waterfront park where the average resident can enjoy a look at the river's edge atop a cantilevered deck or fish off a floating dock. This is the people's park.

The first major phase of construction will be completed in a few months and funded by $850,000 in Niagara River Greenway funds, $395,000 from state and Environmental Protection Fund grants and $66,000 from the city. Indeed, without the Greenway money, the project may not have moved forward.

There's been much discussion on the commission about what constitutes a legitimate Greenway project and there have been a variety of uses suggested by the members. This project, though, is a happy marriage of need and resource. The need for funding is large in Niagara Falls, and waterfront parks lie at the core of the Greenway's mission.

The city has owned the roughly 2-acre parcel for two decades and over that period it was targeted for a variety of different development proposals, not all scrupulous. And that was before the city could even issue a request for proposals.

Mikula stepped into the role of citizen watchdog and tracked the process by showing up at public meetings to ensure elected officials did the right thing. The land is a precious asset to Niagara Falls and the only use should always have been as a public park.

Public preservation of the land was a shared vision and, as a result, the public will have an opportunity to access the waterfront. LaSalle is a real people's park, in a working-class neighborhood of Niagara Falls where people don't have a lot of access. It affords everyone an opportunity to interact with the "Big River."

There's a gratifying pattern forming from LaSalle Park and Griffin Park -- up next for the public participation process -- and Jayne Park on Cayuga Island with Greenway funds and other money potentially available, depending on neighborhood input.

These are three major waterfront parks that are obvious targets for Greenway money in the LaSalle neighborhood of Niagara Falls and a point of renewed pride for residents.

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