Ask outgoing City of Tonawanda Mayor Ron Pilozzi about his proudest achievements during eight years in office and he’s quick to rank highest the $20.6 million cleanup of the former Spaulding Fibre manufacturing site.
The city worked with multiple levels of government to remediate the 47 acres, demolish vacant buildings and build new infrastructure such as roads and utilities in an eight-and-a- half-year project completed one year ago.
“We did it in three phases so we had a minimal amount of money invested from the City of Tonawanda,” he said. “And it worked. It worked very well.”
Now, Simmers Crane and Design Services is poised to become the first tenant of the shovel-ready Spaulding Commerce Park, which Pilozzi thinks has the potential to become a booming economic engine once again.
But one of the city’s major advantages has always been its proximity to the Niagara River and Erie Canal.
And not far behind on Pilozzi’s list is the $2 million the city invested in its parks and waterways during his tenure. He’s happy to show a visitor the gleaming new $1.25 million Niawanda Park Pavilion, which opened in April for private event rentals and was built with $877,000 in Greenway commission funds. There’s also a shoreline stabilization project, a kayak launch in Eastern Park and an ADA accessible overlook and fishing ramp where Ellicott Creek and the canal meet.
“It’s a promise I made to the taxpayers of the City of Tonawanda,” Pilozzi said of those improvements during an interview in the City Hall office he is about to vacate after losing a re-election bid to Democrat Rick Davis. “I’m glad to be able to say we made good on it.”
With property tax increases kept at under 0.5 percent each of the last two years, labor contracts locked in and a history of sharing services such as wastewater treatment with the Town of Tonawanda, Pilozzi said he believes he’s leaving the city on solid footing.
“Government can’t afford government anymore,” he said. “You have to find ways to limit your financial burden to the taxpayers and one of them is shared services.”
The fate of one of Pilozzi’s main efforts to expand the city’s tax base, however, is uncertain.
Critics of an agreement he reached with Natale Builders to sell the developer 17 acres in Little League Park on which 56 single-family homes would be built in three phases have objected to giving the homes a property tax break. The Common Council would have to approve the sale of the city-owned land.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but if you look at the campaigns of some of the people that ran this past November and won, it concerns me that it’s going to be viable,” he said.
But the Vietnam War veteran, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, can look out from his office with pride at at least one idea that became a reality: the All Heroes Memorial behind City Hall dedicated in 2010 to city natives Warren H. “Skip” Muck and Frederick W. “Fritz” Niland, who inspired the television series “Band of Brothers” and the film “Saving Private Ryan,” respectively.
City officials at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting lauded Pilozzi’s career in public service, which began in 1994 with four consecutive terms as 3rd ward alderman.
As the 66-year-old former General Motors manager and son of an Italian-American beer delivery man reflects on his time as mayor of the city of 15,000, he becomes wistful.
“Sometimes when I go out in that hallway and look at all those mayors up there I say, ‘You know what? There’s only a handful of people that’s ever been the mayor in this city,’ ” he said. “I was lucky enough, honored enough to be chosen as one.”