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$150,000 in utility work for Centennial Circle art project questioned

NIAGARA FALLS – Costs for a public art project in Centennial Circle are now topping a half-million dollars.

On Thursday, the Host Communities Standing Committee approved spending additional Greenway Grant funds of $150,000 to move utilities in the traffic circle, dubbed Centennial Circle, at the intersection of First Street and Rainbow Boulevard.

The committee had already approved $335,000 for the project and the City of Niagara Falls and the USA Niagara Development Corp. have agreed to spend $50,000 each. The committee was created to dispense New York Power Authority relicensing funds.

Nearly half the costs of the $585,000 project - a total of $250,000 – will be used to install a three-dimensional public art project on the circle. Placing the sculpture on the vacant site also contributed to the $150,000 cost overrun.

The towering, abstract sculpture by Indianapolis-based artist Jeff Laramore features a 38-foot cascade painted aqua and blue, suggestive of the falls, and anchored by abstract versions of the American and Canadian falls. It will be illuminated at night by LED lights designed to create a lantern effect.

This is the first public art project in Niagara Falls and has been under discussion since 2008. It is designed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty between the United State and Canada in 1909.

The sheer size of the planned sculpture is what led to the added costs.

Residents and City Council members have suggested that the Niagara Falls Water Department pay to move the water lines. To that end, Thomas DeSantis, acting director of planning, environment and economic development, met two months ago with the Water Board, which was asked to foot the $150,000 cost of moving water and sewer lines.

Water Board Chairman Paul Drof said his board is still discussing the request, but added that the Water Department is not responsible for the problem. He pointed out that the Department of Transportation developed the circle on top of various utility rights of way – includng gas and telephone lines.

“It was never a circle until the state made it one and (the state) didn’t have to relocate anything because it was just a garden with a bench in the center,” said Drof, who added that because of the wind, a substantial base is required for the art installation and the excavation will interfere with water and sewer lines.

Drof said anytime a contractor – city or a private – installs a foundation the utility is required to relocate a line for accessibility.

“If there is a concrete support how do we go under it without undermining it? How do we keep it from toppling?” Drof said.

DeSantis said the city can no longer wait for the Water Board to take action, that the project needs to be bid.

“If we wait for the Water Board to act, the likelihood is that the timeline will get pushed back to next year,” he said.

He said if the Water Board comes forward with the funding, the $150,000 will ne returned the Greenway fund to be reallocated to another project.