Talk turns to building up Buffalo Avenue

A public open house was held to present concepts and findings from the Niagara Opportunity Area project Tuesday at the Michael O’Laughlin Water Treatment Plant that included available real estate in the Adams Power Plant and Acheson Road area.

Focused plans to redevelop the Buffalo Avenue industrial corridor, the old heart of the city of Niagara Falls’s manufacturing economy, have debuted.

They are ambitious, including new roads, a fishing pier, a museum, solar-panel fields and mixed-use residential and commercial facilities along the Niagara River. All were among the ideas discussed Tuesday at the Michael O’Laughlin Water Treatment Plant by Labella Associates, the planning firm tasked with assembling a redevelopment blueprint for the corridor.

The schematics, some six years in the making, come from the Niagara Opportunity Area, the committee formed to strategize the revitalization of the area using about $400,000 of a total $6.5 million state grant funds issued 2011.

The committee’s focus is on four sites that its stakeholders say, if properly built out, will serve as catalysts for wider redevelopment: Adams Power Plant and Acheson Road area; Niagara Falls Boulevard Corridor west of I-190; Hyde Park and Buffalo Avenue intersection; and Buffalo Avenue near the I-190 bridge.

The area was designated by the state as an “opportunity area” in 2011, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced the Brownfields Opportunity Area Program, which provided grants for “distressed neighborhoods that have been adversely affected by multiple brownfield sites.”

Locally, that area represents approximately 1,800 acres in the city’s southeastern corner. State officials said the local area contains about 47 brownfields, contaminated areas that require varying degrees of environmental remediation, in the program’s announcement.

Edward Flynn, Labella’s director of planning services, said near the intersection of Acheson Drive and Buffalo Avenue – what he called “Portage District” – has the “greatest potential for redevelopment.”

Labella’s plan proposes the redevelopment of the Adams Power Plant, the historic site of Nikola Tesla’s early electricity experiments, and an outdoor park surrounding it. The “Portage District” plan would also call for a new road near the plant, leading to the Niagara Scenic Parkway.

It could be bordered by another hotel and conference center, Labella proposes, and in close proximity to what the firm calls “Innovation Park,” an envisioned multi-disciplinary research and office complex.

Flynn said the Portage District’s potential arises from its “key landmarks,” like the power plant and former Carborundum office building, and the site is “closest” to Niagara Falls State Park and other downtown development.

Alan Nusbaum, the city’s environmental coordinator, also serves on the steering committee for the project. Nusbaum helped propose the solar panel fields, which in the renderings presented Tuesday, would occupy a remediated site formerly owned by DuPont at the intersection of Buffalo Avenue and Veterans Drive.

Nusbaum said the panels would be well-suited for the site, which already houses an electrical substation, and would be a cost effective way to make use of the area. 

“You’re taking something dirty,” he said, “and making it produce clean energy.”

But it is only a plan, and it will fall to city officials to implement it. At Tuesday’s public input session for the project, Niagara Falls City Councilman Andrew Touma joined residents as they looked at plans and left written suggestions. The city council will be tasked with approving any future funds or city services for the various proposed projects.

“I’m interested to see what administration’s plans are,” he said.

Flynn said those plans, and suggestions for how to implement its ideas, will likely be delivered to city hall in the first quarter of this year.

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