Tonawanda News

February 12, 2014

Vision for growth

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Mayor Rick Davis announced Tuesday night that the city has reached a contract with Simmers Crane, the first company to move into the Spaulding Commerce Park.

“This hopefully marks the beginning of a prosperous future for the former industrial site,” he said during the address at the start of the city council meeting. “I look forward to working closely with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise to ensure the Spaulding Commerce Park remains at the forefront of development.”

Simmers Crane, which currently rents an 11,000-square foot facility on Fire Tower Road in the Town of Tonawanda, will purchase 4 acres of the business park for $140,000.

“We would like to stay in the Tonawandas,” the operations manager, Peter Gruenthaner, said last spring when the plans were announced. “But, essentially, we need more manufacturing space.”

The company was founded in 1958 and builds and services overhead cranes typically found in machine shops that are used in steel mills as well as the automotive and power generation industries. Simmers has had a facility in the town for 10 years, and it employs 30 people.

The company is owned by Pollock Research & Design, and they plan to build a 20,000-square-foot building. The project is expected to cost $1.7 million.

The plans mark a new beginning for the Spaulding Fibre site, which housed 860,000 square feet of factory buildings. The company was once the largest employer in the city, and produced circuit boards for transistor radios among other things.

But the jobs soon began vanishing and not long after, the plant shut down in the early 1990s. The city was left with a deteriorating property, and the cleanup took more than eight years of work and $20 million of federal, state, and county aid as well as an additional $700,000 from the city.

In late 2011, infrastructure work began for the site’s future business park, which is now equipped with water and sewer lines, new roads, sidewalks and curbs.

Davis also noted his work on the city’s other potential development site — Little League Drive. He reiterated his campaign promise to eliminate the homeowners’ association classification in the contract with Natale, the set developer for the proposed housing project at the site.

“I continue to be cautiously optimistic that I can reach an agreement with Natale that will fulfill my platform along with addressing concerns that homeowners have that live adjacent to the former Little League property,” he said.

Davis also hopes to move up sewer work in the First Ward — where residents are dealing with rampant flooding problems — from 2021 to 2017. Other initiatives include the revitalization of a city-owned parking lot behind Tonawanda Towers, the reconstruction of Niagara Street from the town line to Main Street and the beautification on Tonawanda’s portion of Twin Cities Memorial Highway.

City council members thanked Davis for his goals.

“We appreciate your vision and we will support you,” Councilwoman Jackie Smilinich said.

The new mayor focused on the city’s financial state at the start of the speech, noting that Tonawanda has maintained an A+ bond rating and has a fund balance within the recommended standard.

But Davis also recognized challenges the city faces, including increases in health care costs for municipal employees, stagnant state aid and mandated sewer work.

“The City of Tonawanda will continue to face difficult decisions and challenges to ensure its long-term financial sustainability, and must continue to analyze and explore opportunities for savings as well as growth and stabilization of its tax base whenever possible,” he said.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.