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Plans for renovating Lockport historic site include bungee-type ride

LOCKPORT - A group of professionals has purchased a five-story building beside the Erie Canal locks in Lockport with the notion of converting it into an amusement and banquet destination.

Historic Millrace Corp., which acquired the Electric Building, is considering creating a bungee-type ride there as well as a museum.

"We plan on putting a pavilion on top, possibly an entertainment ride," said Dr. Todd M. Retell, a Lockport dentist and president of the company. One of the ideas is a bungee-type ride down an elevator shaft. Other suggestions include a family rope-climbing course and a "museum to show how canal water powered all of Lockport back in the day."

Historic Millrace's partners have invested $25,000 in the project, and the company has also obtained some private and government grants, Retell said.

Retell said Historic Millrace has been promised $20,000 by the Grigg-Lewis Foundation if Historic Millrace can raise $13,000 in matching funds. He and his partners have also received grants from the Yahoo Community Benefit Fund and the state Dormitory Authority, as well as private donations, he said.

A reception Thursday night in Old City Hall kicked off the group's effort to raise funds for a study of plans to restore the Electric Building.

The group wants to hire a consulting firm to create a five-to-10-year strategic plan for development of the building and the entire millrace, which was an above-ground waterway that powered factories along the south side of the canal in the mid-to-late-19th century.

"Right now it's basically in ruins," Retell said of the millrace. "It's a beautiful area that could be a walkway."

With the right development, that walkway could connect the locks to Cornerstone Arena at Market and Chestnut streets, Retell said. Many of the long-gone plants that benefitted from the millrace's water were on Market Street. Many of their foundations are still visible, he said.

"We see great value in restoring the Electric Building and millrace, and making it another historic attraction on the Erie Canal," Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

The millrace is not to be confused with the underground waterway on the north side of the canal, which served a similar purpose. Today it is called the Lockport Cave and an underground boat ride there is one of Lockport's top tourist attractions.

David R. Kinyon, president of the Lockport Heritage District Corp., a promotional agency not connected with the Retell group, said the longest segment of the millrace runs from the locks to the foundations of the "upside-down" railroad bridge east of downtown.

"It's got tremendous potential," Kinyon said. "The Locks Heritage District has been very interested in Historic Millrace. We want to see additional attractions developed along the canal."

Part of the millrace property is publicly owned, while other sections are in private hands, Kinyon said. There is a National Grid right of way and a small hydroelectric plant near the locks, owned by Brookfield Power.

Retell said studies of the structural soundness of the Electric Building have been carried out by local engineers.

Restoring the building alone is not enough, he contended. "The area has so much more to offer," he said. "When we went to clean up the building, we found bags of heroin needles, just garbage all over the place, and now it's very presentable. Families can walk up and down to the canal very safely."

He said the hoped-for study will determine a total cost for a general redevelopment and what steps should be taken first.

McCaffrey praised the Historic Millrace board for its "vision and commitment to Lockport's history." She added, "I am optimistic that it will be another defining heritage attraction in Lockport."

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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