Tonawanda News — They’re home to the ghosts of a place called the Lumber City. Sites, many vacant for years, that were once home to bustling timber yards and other industrial facilities along the Niagara River that first put North Tonawanda on the map.
Now, city officials hope these tracts of land — more than 500 acres in total, many of which have sat vacant for decades — will be the key to reinventing North Tonawanda for a new century of growth.
At least that’s the plan.
The North Tonawanda Common Council formally approved a contract Tuesday that will allow the city to enter the final phase of a 2009 master plan, a document that urban planners hope will serve as the roadmap to convert the city’s long-underutilized waterfront into a mix of public space, residential housing and commercial centers to spur economic growth in places where that very hope has laid dormant for generations.
The concept, which has been talked about for years, was able to come to fruition after the city received a $423,450 state grant in 2012, that will now be to used focus on putting in place the framework for redeveloping hundreds of acres of abandoned industrial sites on Tonawanda Island, transform River Road into a pedestrian-friendly parkway and continue to build on progress remaking downtown into a more attractive place for people to live.
Bergmann Associates, the design firm in charge of crafting the master plan’s implementation, has worked closely with city government on the first two phases of the project, which have already been completed and call for a mixed-use design, that would include retail and apartments along a stretch of the Niagara River.
Michael Zimmerman, planning and development coordinator for the Lumber City Development Corp., said the grant centers on “brownfield opportunity areas” — a development euphemism for abandoned industrial sites — and is meant to create jobs, support environmental clean-up and revitalize neighborhoods. The result, city leaders hope, is to expand the tax base in distressed parts of the city that are negatively impacted by brownfield sites.