Niagara Gazette

May 8, 2013

Parkway project granted $10M as part of "Buffalo Billion" initiative

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — State officials announced a $10 million injection into the Robert Moses Parkway South project during a presentation at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo.

Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said Tuesday the state would provide the money to help facilitate the removal as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative.

The state had already committed $5 million. With the $10 million announced on Tuesday $15 million is now dedicated to the south section project. 

State officials estimated the remaining cost of the south section portion of the project to be between $15 million and $20 million. The section of the parkway runs from state park toward the Grand Island bridges.

Duffy said the investment in the road project is a sign of Cuomo’s continuing commitment to investing in Western New York.

“Today’s announcement exemplifies the state-local coordination that has become a hallmark of this administration: the Regional Economic Development Councils bringing together community leaders to guide the state’s investment where it can best serve the people of Buffalo and grow the economy of Western New York,” Duffy said.

Duffy said the removal of the expressway — which will be replaced with an at-grade, low-speed parkway — will reconnect the city with the rapids and create opportunities for tourists and residents to enjoy the river.

“This investment will focus specifically on Buffalo’s tourism assets, and transforming a part of the city to better attract visitors and drive local development and job growth,” Duffy said.

Howard Zemsky, the co-chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, gave a presentation during the announcement outlining the many investments in Niagara Falls slated as part of the tourism section of the Buffalo Billion plan.

The council is hoping to help private investors cash in on the assets that already exist in the region by promoting outdoor adventure, cultural and heritage tourism, according to Zemsky.

“We look at it as untapped potential, low-hanging fruit for as large as the tourism industry is,” he said.

Zemsky said removing the highway and replacing it with a parkway — along with improvements to the park space along the south end of the park — will open up opportunities for investors.

“For cities today I think we’re probably overdue for a reconnection to the waterfront,” Zemsky said.

During his presentation Zemsky listed a number of outdoor adventure opportunities that the state hopes to add to the parks system including bike rentals, fishing equipment rentals and horse back riding.

Zemsky said that other improvements planned for downtown from private investors — upscale hotels, dining and retail — will also help to extend stays and cause visitors to spend more.

All of the improvements will work in tandem to make Niagara Falls a more attractive place for tourists, Zemsky said.

“You wouldn’t want to depend on any one of those things to win the game,” Zemsky said. “But, taken as a whole, this has the potential to be transformative.”

Mayor Paul Dyster said the investment from the state will go a long way towards paying for the project, but more cash will be needed for the construction phase.

“Now that the state has stepped up with very significant funding it’s time to circle back with our federal delegation and come up with a final plan,” Dytser said.

Both U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls and Buffalo have demonstrated support for the expressway facelift — on both the north and south ends — with Schumer pledging to help find funding for the project and Higgins calling on the New York Power Authority to chip in $120 million.

The various stakeholders in the project — state, city, federal — hope to begin construction in 2014 and complete the project in 2015 with heavy construction in the first year and detail work in the second year.

The final design of the project needs to be accelerated to complete the work in that time frame, which is important for the hoteliers who have invested in the area close to the park in anticipation of the new road and enhanced park space, Dyster said.

Four new hotel projects — $50 million in private investment — are planned along the river and Buffalo Avenue.

“Private investment is being driven by the potential completion of this project,” Dyster said. “We need to move it forward. We need to fulfill our promise to (the investors).”

Dyster, who lists the removal of the parkway as an issue that drove him to enter politics, said the state received a great deal of input on the revamping the south section.

“We’ve been able to arrive at a pretty solid consensus on a vision for the South End,” the mayor said.

As the south section project moves forward stakeholders will be able to turn their focus towards the more contentious north end of the parkway.

“Once we know what we’re doing (on the south section) and how we can pay for it we can turn our attention to phase one of the north end,” Dyster said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257