Niagara Gazette

July 16, 2013

Lopsided defeat leaves Lewiston civic center project in doubt

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

At least one dream died in Lewiston Monday evening.

Voters turned down a borrowing request for the town's proposed $8 million recreation center. In fact, the decision wasn't even close. 

Unofficially, only 673 voters said yes to the project; 1,312 said no. And the nearly 2-to-1 differential brought gasps from the mouths of vocal supporters who stuck around to get the results in-person.

Supervisor Steve Reiter, who previously campaigned for election under the promise of bringing a recreation center such as his proposed building, said he doesn't think the plan can recover from its beatdown.

"It would be very difficult to regenerate this project, given the amount of people who voted no," he said after finding out the totals. "The public spoke."

Less than 100 absentee ballots and affidavit votes were left to be counted after the numbers were revealed.

Reiter, who 10 days prior underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery, said the result was "disappointing," given the amount of effort and time both he and a group of volunteers put into developing the center from inception to design and even to planning.

He'd even negotiated a purchase of 10 acres of property from the Lewiston-Porter School District to house the building, which would've sat in front of the district's high school on Creek Road.

With Monday's vote results, almost $100,000 of spending on the project so far is rendered moot. Lewiston engineering firm Advanced Design Group had been performing site plan work and prepared the project for its state environmental quality review, while Bammel Architects of Orchard Park worked since January designing the building.

These costs will be paid by New York Power Authority Greenway Commission money received to fund the project's costs this year.

Reiter said public opinion about these costs, as well as costs associated with operating the building once constructed, may have played into the vote's result.

"Unfortunately there's been some pressure about the costs with this project," he said. "They're not portrayed the way they should be. They've been misrepresented."

He said the resale of power would have paid for the building's utilities, while the greenway money would have covered the project's debt service.

But it's all for nothing, now. And it's a result which could have long-term effects on Lewiston's political future. Reiter's term expires at the end of the year, and the town leader is facing both a Republican primary challenger, as well as two Democrat candidates if he chooses to continue in office.

The question of if he would, a move made possible when his campaign filed petitions with the county Board of Elections last week, came up. He's just undergone a major heart surgery and he's been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the state's Attorney General's office following a 2011 audit revealed alleged highway department indiscretions under his watch as highway superintendent.

"We'll see," he said about running again. "This (vote) may be a little bit of a reflection on me."