There was a time when a neighborhood clean-up effort would draw no more than a handful of dedicated volunteers in the Highland Avenue community.

This year, as organizers prepare for their annual spring-cleaning event, more than 150 people are expected to be on hand.

It is a sign of progress in an area that has been struggling for years to change its image as one of the poorest neighborhoods in all of Niagara Falls.

“I think it’s a significant statement to know that many aren’t just interested in volunteering from the Highland Avenue community, there are many from outside the community who are willing to volunteer as well,” said Willie Dunn, executive director of the Highland Community Revitilization Committee Inc., a non-profit group that provides housing and home ownership services to residents in the Highland area. “I think people are excited that there are things going on. They just want the opportunity to benefit as the Highland community continues to be revitalized.”

Growing numbers at community events aren’t the only sign of improvement in an area of the city that is finally starting to show other signs of life as well in the form of construction equipment and workers. If all goes as planned, the Highland Avenue community soon will be home to a pair of new factories, a new housing development, a new health care clinic and a reclaimed industrial site that has languished as a brownfield for many, many years.

“Where you have been doubtful before, you are hopeful,” said Mae Nix, who has served as the president of the Tennessee Avenue Block Club for the past six years. “You are hopeful that this is going to continue. You are hopeful that it is going to continue to grow and prosper.”

Recent signs of prosperity include:

n Santarosa Holdings Inc.: The company's affiliate, Alternative Resources Management, has started demolishing portions of the old Union Carbide plant on College Avenue. The company is spending $9 million to renovate 13 acres of the parcel which has been vacant since 1986 and had fallen into a state of significant disrepair. A new tire recycling facility is being developed on site. It is expected to create 75 new jobs.

• Globe Specialty Metals: Company officials announced in May plans to invest $20 million as part of a multi-year project aimed at reviving the plant as a silicon production facility for the solar power industry. The Globe plant has been idle since 2003. Long-term plans for the plant call for an investment of $60 million by 2011 and projections for the hiring of about 500 employees. While the project has been delayed from its original timeline, a company spokesperson said in January that Globe remains committed to moving the Falls project forward "as quickly as possible" and is working to overcome challenges, including difficulties in securing construction materials and current economic conditions.

• Census Tract II brownfields redevelopment: The DEC announced last year plans to develop a design plan for cleaning up environmental contamination at the Tract II site at the corner of Beech and Highland Avenues. The site was last occupied by Moore Business Forms Co. which closed its manufacturing facility in 1971. While the majority of buildings were demolished in 1992, a dilapidated building in the northeast portion of the property remains. The site has been prone to Illegal dumping of debris and residential wastes over the years. The DEC is now in the process of clearing away brush and debris in the area and is conducting soil tests in preparation for a larger cleanup effort. The agency expects the remedial clean-up design to be completed in 2009, with construction of the site remedy to begin in 2010.

• HOPE VI: After a series of setbacks due to concerns about soil contamination, the Niagara Falls Housing Authority is preparing to resume construction on a multi-million project that will replace dilapidated public housing units at Centre Court with mixed-income developments.

n Mount St. Mary’s Health Clinic: Hospital officials are planning to break ground this spring on a new $1.3 million medical facility to be located at Ninth Street and Profit Lane near the Doris Jones Family Resource Center. Mount St. Mary’s spokesperson Fred Caso said the hospital has all the necessary land purchase agreements and approvals in place and is now working with county health department officials to allow the clinic to open once the building is constructed.

“All the paperwork has been submitted,” Caso said. “We are just waiting for them to get back to us with the final approval.”

Contact reporter Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.

Recommended for you