Tonawanda News

January 1, 2013

A look back at the year in news

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The Tonawanda News has completed its annual list of the top 10 stories in the Tonawandas. Here’s a brief recap of each of this years picks:

10: NHL lockout

threatens hockey season

When the NHL and its players’ union couldn’t come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement over the summer, the owners locked out the players.

Most fans didn’t think the dispute would stretch all that far into the season — if at all. They were wrong. The deal still remains to be reached, with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman setting a drop-dead date in the middle of January. If a new CBA isn’t signed and games beginning by then, he’ll cancel the season.

The NHL sent players a new offer Friday.

9: HSBC sells out

to First Niagara

It was a deal that left thousands of Western New Yorkers facing a quandary. HSBC announced it was selling its American comercial banking interests and selling off branches. Months later, it was announced First Niagara Bank, formerly headquartered in Pendleton, would take over the lion’s share of HSBC’s business.

The change-over was mostly smooth, though several branches were closed and remain in limbo. That includes the branch at Main and Niagara streets in downtown Tonawanda. 

8: Upscale restaurants open in downtown

So much for the Twin Cities’ pizza-and-wings reputation. Upscale restaurants aplenty opened up along the Erie Canal in both cities this year by some of the area’s most acclaimed restauranteurs. 

Smoke on the Water, a barbecue restaurant, was opened to rave reviews by the Richert brothers, operators of Torches on Kenmore Avenue. 

Across the canal in North Tonawanda, Remington Tavern, an upscale seafood bar, is the anchor tenant at the Remington Lofts on Sweeney Street.

Romeo’s, a fine dining Italian restaurant, has set up shop around the corner on Webster Street. 

They join Crazy Jake’s, also on Webster Street, offering residents here and from around the region an excuse to visit the canal and feast on some of the finest cuisine in Western New York.

7: Cuomo pledges

$1 billion for WNY

It was an eye-popping announcement to say the least. Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged up to $1 billion in economic development money, tax breaks and low cost power to help spur economic growth in the region.

The governor’s stated preference was for the money to be spent on large-scale projects largely within Buffalo city limits. But area legislators who met with the governor prior to the announcement said he would leave the details up to local investors, leaders and his newly created Regional Economic Development Council.

6: Super Mario doesn’t help a busted Bills team

March isn’t typically a month all that exciting for Bills fans, but when word surfaced that they’d lured star free agent defensive end Mario Williams to town and hoped to sign him to a contract, long-suffering fans saw light at the end of the tunnel.

Though Williams did sign here and played well in his first season in Buffalo, the light in the tunnel was yet another freight train bearing down, poised to squash another season that began with high hopes. The team comes into the season finale today with just five victories and will miss the playoffs for an astonishing 13th consecutive year.

5: Canal Fest closing

time controversy

A long-simmering dispute between the City of Tonawanda Common Council and the Canal Fest board of directors over the event’s closing time boiled over in 2012. City leaders fed up with groups of rowdy teens causing problems after dark mandated the event’s midway, staged on the Tonawanda side, close down an hour early. Fest organizers said the time lost would be a revenue killer and could cost them the contract with the ride operator.

City leaders pointed to far fewer arrests as proof the early closing time worked. Canal Fest organizers said they lost as much as 50 percent of their profits as a result, but have not offered figures to back up that assertion.

4: GM lands engine

lines, adds jobs

The General Motors Powertrain plant in the Town of Tonawanda saw a Renaissance of sorts in 2012. New engine production lines were announced, including the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. More than 500 jobs will be added and millions in technology has been installed.

This, just three years after GM declared bankruptcy and was bailed out by the federal government, putting the entire factory’ future in doubt.

3: Little League

Drive deal riles city

It’s been in the talking stages for years, but 2012 saw the City of Tonawanda make serious strides toward authorizing a housing development on former baseball diamonds near the Niagara River. 

Not everyone is happy about it, though. Residents questioned whether the city is getting a good deal, based on negotiations with Natale Builders, the group negotiating to buy the land.

At issue: The cost for selling the property and whether a proposed homeowners’ association and condo status — which would see new owners paying less in taxes while providing some of their own services like sidewalk maintenance and street lights — is fair.

2: NT woman killed, boyfriend charged

It was the Lumber City’s first homicide in nearly a decade, and a brutal one at that.

Heather Rylowicz, 34, of Lincoln Avenue, was found dead in her home Nov. 22, killed by both blunt-force trauma and cut with a knife. She was discovered several days after her death, when a neighbor called police when she noticed mail piling up, her car missing and her dog inside the home.

Police said they were seeking to interview Brian C. Lowry, Rylowicz’s live-in boyfriend, in connection with the case. Lowry was located by Buffalo Police a few days later and detectives said he confessed during the interview to killing Rylowicz.

Lowry waived a felony hearing and the case has likely been forwarded to a grand jury for consideration.

Honorable mention

Niagara Falls was in the national spotlight when daredevil Nik Wallenda traversed the Niagara gorge on a tightrope, walking from the American side into Canada. Some questioned the validity of the stunt when sponsors required him to hear a tether if the event was to be broadcast live on ABC. 

Wallenda resisted, but eventually relented to wearing the safety device. As it turns out, he never missed a step as millions watched the stunt across the country and around the world.