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Plans for multi-million-dollar Lewiston Civic Center rests in public’s hands

LEWISTON – A proposal for an $8 million, 140,000-square-foot Lewiston Civic Center is on the table awaiting the next step – voter approval.

And the town has proposed funding the project with a large chunk of the $510,000 it receives every year through the Niagara River Greenway revitalization project.

If approved by voters July 15, the facility would be built on Creek Road, south of the Lewiston-Porter School District.

“This is an opportunity,” said Lewiston Supervisor Steven L. Reiter. “I see a dynamic center with multigenerational use. I see kids coming there and playing sports. And though they’ve discussed staying in the senior center as it is right now, I think we will make it available for senior events, and after a while, I envision the seniors saying there’s a lot more potential and a lot more to do here, and they will gradually drift there. I think our seniors deserve that.”

The original plan was for the building to serve as a recreation and senior center with 90,000 square feet of enclosed fields, indoor basketball courts, locker rooms and meeting rooms.

But it has grown in scope to be considered a civic center – with the potential for other opportunities.

“If you wanted to have a car show or a camping show, there will be doors to bring them in,” Reiter said. “There could be a little home show there. The uses are only limited by our imagination.”

The civic center would be funded by $430,000 from the town’s Greenway funds, spread out over 20 years in bond payments. The money had originally been earmarked to pay for upgrades at Joseph Davis State Park.

The project at the state park will still go forward, with the town putting in new boat launches, campgrounds and other items, but that plan has been scaled down.

The Joseph Davis upgrades are expected to cost between $1 million and $2 million – and with the approval of a 20-year agreement with the state, the town is now expected to use only $80,000 per year of its annual $510,000 payment in Niagara River Greenway money to pay for it.

Town leaders want the rest of that money to go to the civic center.

A large group out of Clearwater, Fla., called Sports Facilities Advisory has already been brought in to talk about marketing and managing the facility.

Any decisions will have to wait until after the vote, Reiter said, which will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 15 at Town Hall, 1375 Ridge Road.

The project has already has hit some bumps.

Earlier this month, the Niagara River Greenway commission rejected the project. But with no power to withhold funding, the rejection acted as a recommendation, not a veto.

Two days later, the host communities group, which makes the ultimate funding decisions, disagreed and gave the project the green light.

About the same time, State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, introduced in the State Legislature a proposal that would strictly limit the use of Greenway funding to a narrow strip along the Niagara River corridor.

The proposal was designed to refocus the money after a study by the Partnership for Public Good found that nearly half of the $50 million spent since 2004 had not been used within lands and waters identified as the Greenway Focus Area.

The host communities have railed at the idea of limiting how they use funding that they negotiated for as part of the settlement with the New York Power Authority.

“The Niagara River Greenway is poorly named. It should probably be called recreation money,” said Reiter.

“For example, Lewiston-Porter is not close to the river, so how can they get Greenway money? They can’t go off campus with their funding. The same with the Niagara Falls School District and the Town of Niagara – they are not near the river,” noted Reiter of the other members of the host communities. “It’s a contract with the Power Authority, a settlement, and it puts us in a difficult situation.”

Reiter said Lewiston looked at several locations for the Civic Center but ultimately purchased 10 acres of land from the Lewiston-Porter School District, adjacent to the school, for $50,000.

Reiter said it was important to own the land so the town could control the use of the civic center.

“Will the school get preferential treatment? Absolutely. But in our agreement it says if we have a paying customer, they have to match the fees or reschedule,” Reiter said.

He said when the town negotiated the relicensing with the New York Power Authority, Lewiston extended the Greenway to cover the whole town, rather than a dividing line, which was originally proposed.

“I think the host communities are spending the money in a way you can wrap your arms around it. You can see what you are getting for your money,” Reiter said. “They can touch it. They can squeeze it. They can feel it. And that’s important.”

“The Power Authority has been in our backyard for 50 some odd years now, and we should be entitled to some of the lost revenues in taxes. By doing things such as rec centers and playing fields, we are taking advantage of a situation to enhance our quality of life,” Reiter said.

He said the Lewiston Civic Center could make Lewiston a destination.

“We’re looking at extending the sports season. With the things we are doing at Joe Davis and this rec center, we can tie these things together and maybe make Lewiston a sports-type destination. We could have extreme sports and outdoor sports at Joe Davis and the indoor activities at the rec center,” Reiter said.

“You always hear about making people stay longer at Niagara Falls, to spend more time in the area, but I want to view Lewiston as the place you want to go and then stop up and go to the Falls,” Reiter said, laughing. But he said Greenway funds will make that happen. “Lewiston is blessed. The stars are right. We can do this.”