By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — It’s no secret to those in the Lumber City that the once bustling commercial district on Oliver Street has seen better days.
Rising crime and an increase in the number of rental units along the street, may say, can be laid in part at the feet of population loss and a trend toward suburban-style plaza developments.
Oliver Street has taken a downward economic slide, though there remain a spattering of valuable restaurants and cultural organizations.
But Rich Andres, the city’s common council president who also represents the second ward, believes that a beautification project he has initiated will serve as an early catalyst for a transformation there.
His plan involves planting 100 trees between the Erie Canal on Sweeney Street and the evolving Buffalo Bolt Business Park, located just up the road.
During the last several days, he’s managed to chip away at 10 percent of that vision with the help of students from North Tonawanda High School, where he teaches, and members of the North Tonawanda Active Hose Fire Co. #2 near Sommer Street, along with 10 trees donated by Re-Tree WNY.
“There’s plenty of life on that street, plenty of businesses that are doing a great job,” Andres said, “And there’s a good amount to build off of.”
His goal during the next few years — beginning with the tree planting which he plans to extend through the spring and summer of 2013 — is to make the area more appealing for future development.
With the growth along Webster Street in the downtown district continuing to make gains, Andres sees an opportunity to expand that slow success onto parts of Oliver.
“Everybody knows Webster Street has been a success story with building after building coming back,” he said. “But people may forget it took 15 years to get there.”
Michael Zimmerman, of the Lumber City Development Corporation, the city’s business funding arm, said that while there are pockets of commercial viability along Oliver Street, what’s needed to spur a true metamorphosis on a larger and more expedited scale is a solid plan from the city.
However, he added, the length of the street makes linking economically resurgent sections difficult.
“Oliver Street, for one one thing, is such a large street, so long and so different from end to end,” Zimmerman said. “Some parts are really residential and some parts are really commercial. So there’s different opportunities and different problems.”
Andres said he sees his efforts as more of a long-term solution and by working off the success on Webster Street, the city may make gains on Oliver Street, section by section.
For now, the fire company will serve as a sort of pilot program to show the positive aspects that green space can have a neighborhood.
“What I’d like to see is not only groups, but citizens, also help by planting their own trees and making the properties that much better,” Andres said.Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.