on May 7, 2013 - 12:01 PM
The latest installment of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” economic-development pledge will be used to help pay for ripping up a portion of the Robert Moses Parkway just south of Niagara Falls.
Officials said the $10 million for the work is seen as a step to help increase tourism and create jobs.
In the 17 months since Cuomo pledged to invest up to $1 billion over as many as 10 years to try to turn around the Western New York economy, the state has committed to spending $70 million on projects ranging from $50 million for Albany Molecular Research to open a $250 million drug research, development and testing center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to last week’s announcement of a $10 million commitment for a workforce training center in Buffalo.
State officials said the projects go hand in hand with the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council’s plan to seek long-term investments that will help make the Buffalo Niagara region more competitive in segments of the economy where it has a leg up on other parts of the country.
Along with the funding announcement, the state unveiled a television ad promoting Buffalo as a place to do business featuring investor Warren E. Buffett and former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, among others.
The ad, which will be shown outside the region, features Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and The Buffalo News; Emmy Award-winning actress Christine Baranski; National Football League Hall of Fame member Kelly; Howard A. Zemsky, co-chairman of the Development Council; local businesswoman Sundra L. Ryce; and the GEICO Gecko.
“Tourism is a huge industry in Western New York, and the whole key to our plan is to leverage our strengths,” said Zemsky, a local developer.
The $10 million for the Moses Parkway project will help remove a one-mile stretch of the limited-access expressway that begins just south of the falls and replace it with a street-level, pedestrian-friendly parkway.
Critics of the Moses Parkway have long argued that it was a barrier separating the attractions along the Niagara River from the rest of Niagara Falls.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy. “It’s being done.”
The project, announced in February and estimated to cost between $33 million and $50 million, already has a $5 million funding commitment from the state, but officials also are hoping to gain further money from federal highway programs – a strategy pursued by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, also has been pressuring the New York Power Authority to provide funding.
The state funding is for the first phase of the project at the southernmost end of the parkway targeted for removal, along with the berm that runs alongside it. The targeted section begins just south of the John B. Daly Boulevard exit off the Moses Parkway, which will be replaced by a roundabout, and runs north through the upper rapids. The portion of the Moses Parkway that begins at the North Grand Island Bridges and runs to the state park is not being removed.
“The $15 million will take us through most of the construction on the southern end,” said Christopher J. Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara Development.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said final design work still needs to be completed on the project to remove the section of the highway from downtown to the city’s northern neighborhoods and possibly farther. If the funding is in place, the project could be put out to bid as early as next year and would take two years to complete, Dyster said.
“A large part of downtown Niagara Falls will be reconnected to its waterfront,” the mayor said.
Vehicles still will have access to the Niagara Gorge and points north along Whirlpool Street, which will be transformed into a low-speed, two-lane parkway like the one that runs along the river in Niagara Falls, Ont.
The removal of the Moses Parkway is part of a broader plan to expand the offerings in and near Niagara Falls State Park. Other plans call for the creation of new trails for hiking and bicycling, along with new programs featuring horseback riding, cross-country skiing and even zip-lining and rock climbing.
State officials also hope the Moses Parkway project will dovetail with the $50 million in private development under way in Niagara Falls that will add nearly 500 hotel rooms in the downtown area in four separate projects. The state also plans to select a master developer for the remainder of the former Rainbow Centre mall, which has been boosted by Niagara County Community College’s Culinary Institute.
“Finally, private-sector investment of material consequence is happening in Niagara Falls,” Zemsky said.
Dyster said, “Now that you’ve got places for people to stay, you can start focusing on giving them more things to do and give them a reason to stay longer.”