Last month, city development officials told the city’s Tourism Advisory Board they weren’t having much luck luring business to Third Street.

It wasn’t surprising to hear — the city’s “entertainment district” has been down on its luck for several years, despite the efforts of city and state officials.

Not much has gone right since USA Niagara Development Corp. completed a $3.7 million street reconstruction in 2005. Take away a small stretch of Indian restaurants close to Niagara Street and much of the roadway looks even more empty and derelict then it did four years ago.

Until you glance over at the corner of Third and Ferry Avenue where you’ll spot the relatively new Wine on Third and Caffe Lola.

Taken with the Indian restaurants down the street, it’s a positive sign of the entertainment district’s potential.

And it gets better — Wine on Third is expanding.

Owners Shawn Weber and David Giusiana are planning to renovate 700-square feet of property next door to use as an upscale dining area capable of hosting private parties. The $76,900 project will be supplemented with a $45,000 low-interest loan from the city approved Monday by the NFC Development Corp.

The pair purchased and renovated the vacant building at 501-507 Third St. into three separate storefronts and lofts on the upper floor. After opening up the wine bar in the corner storefront, they have unsuccessfully attempted to lease out the middle section, which will now be used for the expansion. The third storefront is leased out to Michael Kraus, who opened Caffe Lola this past April.

It’s a sign of hope for the street — and it should serve as another lesson to Peter Kay, the city’s economic director, and Fran Iusi, the city’s director of business development.

It’s the same message members of the Tourism Advisory Board pointed out to the pair this past month — focus on the little guy, let’s build up downtown a bit before swinging for the fences.

Chasing big-name restaurants and the like has gotten us nowhere. It doesn’t take a business degree to figure out a major chain restaurant isn’t going to bring its business to the “entertainment district” until life returns to the street, despite Iusi’s or Kay’s best efforts.

City and state officials need to turn their attention to “little guys,” like local businessmen Weber and Giusiana — and find more like them. Or, as advisory board member Denise Easterling put it — reach out to people who are actually going to be receptive.

That’s how you’re going to bring Third Street — and the rest of downtown — back to life.

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