Main Street land buyer plans public forums in the Falls

This file photo from last month shows several of the properties along Main Street that were sold by Youngstown businessman Richard Hastings to the private equity firm Blue Cardinal Capital in a $3.2 million deal. 

Over the next five months, representatives from local business, government and religious organizations will help decide how to carve up and dole out $10 million in public funding meant to revitalize a stretch of Main Street.

The 18 members of the Local Planning Committee met for the first time at the Niagara Falls Train Station Tuesday to begin the five-month process of compiling a strategic investment plan for a 210-acre swath of the city along the gorge.

The funding was awarded by the state in August as part of Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) through the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, one of several bodies in the state tasked with creating redevelopment plans and allocating money in their respective communities. 

The City of Niagara Falls was one of 10 municipalities to receive the cash earmarked for a bounded area of its downtown, in this case 26 city blocks along Main Street between its intersection with Chasm and Pierce Avenues – the once booming and long ailing former Cataract City business corridor.

Mayor Paul Dyster, who co-chairs the committee, said the group will play a part in moving forward an effort pursued by his administration and other community stakeholders for years.

"This is the realization of an ambition that we in the community have had over a very long period of time," he said. 

The committee will spend its evaluating near-term projects ranging from parks to streetscapes to property rehabilitation to loan programs to marketing. Applicants can range from private equity groups to local homeowners who own parcels or structures in the DRI boundary area.

Thomas DeSantis, the city's senior planner, said proposals can range from high-end apartment complexes on Main Street to a new roof for a homeowner on Cleveland Avenue. The committee's charge is to decide which are funded and how much money each receives. 

Kimberly Baptiste, the municipal practice leader with consultant Bergmann Associates guiding the process, said the group will not entertain requests to reimburse prior expenditures, but new spending will be eligible. In some cases, Baptiste said the DRI looks to provide "gap funding" that sparks projects that have slowed. 

DeSantis said housing will be important to giving the area new life. 

"None of this matters of this matters if we can't find a way to attract new housing," he said.

DeSantis said competitive market rate housing will attract new people to live in the city to patronize or work for projects that may be catalyzed by the DRI funding. 

The public will also have opportunities to weigh in. An open call for project proposals is to take place, as are forums in which locals can provide feedback on prior decisions and upcoming matters.

DeSantis said one amendment he anticipates is making the project submission form more approachable for people who are not familiar with the process. 

Sr. Beth Brosmer, executive director at Heart, Love and Soul Food Pantry and Dining Room on Ontario Avenue, is also among the committee members. She said the money at the group's disposal and its goals of creating diverse job and housing options are an admirable opportunity that come with a great risk.

Brosmer's concern is the area will be gentrified and existing residents will be priced or pushed out of their homes. Individuals in the city's struggling north end and Niagara Falls Housing Authority properties must become part of the process as well, she said. 

"I'm clearly in favor of including people that don't really have a voice," she said. "I will not participate in something where people who live here become victims of the development and the revitalization."

Another meeting is scheduled for next month. For more information, visit: www.nfdri.com.

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