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Greenway money heading for parks, trails and a theater

WHEATFIELD – The committee that controls Niagara River Greenway money in Niagara County passed out $719,000 to six projects last week.

In a series of unanimous votes, the money, which originates with the New York Power Authority, was granted to the City of Niagara Falls for three projects; the Town of Cambria, for a restroom building in the town park; the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda; and the Historical Society of the Tonawandas, for informational signs along the river and the Erie Canal.

The Niagara Falls projects include a Greenway trail in LaSalle, improvements to an already-funded river-view trail; and a plaza near the new train station.

The biggest grant from the Host Communities Standing Committee was $410,000 to the LaSalle Greenway Trail, along Buffalo Avenue from Cayuga Drive to 102nd Street, at the city’s eastern border.

Sherry Shepherd-Corulli, who has a contract with the city for grant-writing and administration, said the $410,000 will be half of the estimated cost of the project, which will include a pedestrian bridge over Cayuga Creek. The city is seeking a state grant for the other half of the cost of the trail, which has been dubbed a priority project by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, a panel that screens requests for state economic development funds.

The trail is designed to connect with a planned Greenway trail in Wheatfield, a $3 million project along River Road. The Host Communities panel granted the town $70,000 toward that project at its Oct. 6 meeting.

The plaza at Whirlpool and Depot streets in the Falls adjoins the old Custom House and the new train station. It is to be called the Harriet Tubman Plaza and features a $12,000 statue of the onetime slave who led hundreds of escaped slaves to freedom in Canada along the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.

The outdoor plaza will have “stone seating, period lighting,” Shepherd-Corulli said. The Greenway grant of up to $131,000 will pay for up to half the cost, depending on how large a hoped-for state grant turns out to be. Like the LaSalle trail, the Tubman plaza was on the list of the region’s priority projects.

In June, the Host Communities granted $225,000 in Greenway cash to a package of improvements to the Niagara Riverview Trail along the upper Niagara River. However, Shepherd-Corulli said the bids for the work at 53rd Street came in at $237,000. “I’ve never seen a project that didn’t have change orders,” she said, so the committee granted the city another $20,000 instead of just $12,000.

The panel also approved $80,000 for the Town of Cambria’s “comfort station,” to be installed near ball diamonds and soccer fields in the town park on Upper Mountain Road. Supervisor Wright H. Ellis said the town will pay for the entire remainder of the estimated $421,713 project, which includes the installation of electrical service that in the future could be used to power lights for the athletic fields.

Bernie Rotella, grants writer for Cambria and several other local communities, said Porta Potties are no longer good enough for the Cambria park as the town’s youth sports programs grow. Also, they don’t have hand-washing facilities, baby-changing stations or handicapped accessibility, all of which will be featured in the new comfort station.

Ellis said Cambria hopes to obtain grants to reimburse some of its cost for the work. Rotella said the project will be “a block building with some skylights, as vandal-proof as possible.”

Gary J. Rouleau, co-director of the Riviera Theatre, was successful in persuading the committee to pay $50,000 toward a nearly $6.1 million expansion plan. Rouleau said the 23,000-square-foot addition to the rear of the theater will include a smaller performance space to be called the Black Box Theatre, new dressing rooms and rehearsal space, a new lobby and theater office and box office space.

Rouleau said an economic development study by Camoin Associates estimated that the expanded Riviera would increase its total annual attendance from the current 100,000 to 150,000 and create 14 spin-off jobs. The economic impact would be $4 million, Camoin’s study projected.

The historical sign plan in the cities of North Tonawanda and Tonawanda is a continuation of one that already received a $23,000 chunk of Erie County’s Greenway money, said Ned Schimminger, collections archivist for the Historical Society of the Tonawandas. That paid for eight signs, mostly in Niawanda Park in the City of Tonawanda. The Host Communities gave $28,000 for nine more signs on the North Tonawanda side, in riverfront parks and the canal.