Much has been made of Williamsville’s recent efforts to calm traffic on Main Street.
But perhaps just as exciting for village pedestrians is a plan to transform the area around the historic water mill into a second business district.
“This is going to be our refuge for the traffic on Main Street,” Village Trustee Christopher J. Duquin said. “A place where we can get people together, where we can have our farmers’ market, where we can shop and party.”
It would turn the back-alley byway into a boulevard where residents gather for festivals with the sound of rushing water – and not Main Street traffic – in the background.
“This is huge for the village,” Williamsville Mayor Brian J. Kulpa said. “We have had this untapped potential for 200 years sitting there. We’re looking at it and saying, ‘Let’s turn it into something.’ ”
The plan, part of the resident-created “Picture Main Street” initiative, got a funding boost Tuesday from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who proposed using state and federal money to get the $7 million project rolling.
The centerpiece is the $4 million renovation of the village’s historic water mill and surrounding buildings into a hospitality and retail hub.
Iskalo Development is surveying the property and plans a renovation that would restore the structure and build upscale shops or apartments around it in the next few years.
It would be quite a transformation from a sea of packed parking lots and a road that looks like it hasn’t been paved in decades.
“It’s literally been a service alley,” Kulpa said. “This has always been the back end of the Earth.”
Kulpa envisions a whole new row of storefronts standing where the parking lots currently wind around Spring Street down to the water mill.
Sidewalks, a new street and rain gardens would also be installed as part of a stormwater drainage system that was hailed by leaders of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper as a model of green infrastructure and design.
Village officials also want to make the entire Main Street area more walkable for those spending their weekends bopping from shop to shop without the hassle of finding a place to park.
“Our hope is the village will emphasize walking and cycling over the burning of fossil fuels,” Kulpa said, and create an environment where people can “abandon their automobiles and continue their shopping day, their business day or their lunch day.”
Proposed changes to Main Street include “bulb-outs” and pedestrian refuge islands to make it easier to cross the five-lane thoroughfare – no small feat at the height of rush hour.
“That spells gridlock, bumper-to-bumper traffic, frustration for local commuters and a headache for residents,” Schumer said. “When pedestrians can’t get across the street, they give up and say, ‘I’m going to shop somewhere else.’ ”
Schumer on Tuesday said funds are “available for the picking” from two specific sources, adding that the citizen-produced Main Street plan is “perfect” for the particular funding pots.
The first is a federal program administered by the state Transportation Department that helps finance nontraditional projects associated with “cultural, aesthetic, historic and environmental significance.” Schumer said he recently fought for $30 million to be placed in the fund, and village officials say they like their chances.
The second source – to fund the Spring Street infrastructure upgrades – comes from a provision in the federal Clean Water Act that authorizes the Environmental Facilities Corporation to fund green infrastructure projects.
“I believe that if these two agencies understand just how much benefit improvements to Main Street would bring to the town’s residents and economic potential, they would pitch in to do the many things that ‘Picture Main Street’ plan would do: help alleviate traffic, make the area more pedestrian- and business-friendly, and boost the local economy,” Schumer said.