LOCKPORT – Two of the five 19th century Erie Canal locks here are to be restored to working order by July, but a replica canal packet boat that was to be used to demonstrate how the locks operate won’t be ready for two years or more.
Plans for the wooden boat are complete, but no funding is in place, explained David R. Kinyon, chairman of the city’s Locks Heritage District Committee. The city will apply the money it has in hand toward a “gateway” design project for Canal Street adjoining the locks.
The gateway involves period lighting and benches for Canal Street, as well as signs directing visitors to important points and explaining what they’re looking at as they view the Flight of Five, as the original locks are called. That’s reference to their design, similar to a flight of five stairs.
Is the lack of a demonstration boat a blow to the Flight’s attractiveness as a tourist attraction?
“We’re disappointed we won’t have that level of interpretation,” Kinyon said.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker sought to downplay the delay. “We knew it was going to take awhile,” he said. “The important thing is to get those locks restored and open. Once the boat is ready, that’ll be another source of energy and something else to celebrate.”
The boat and the gateway project each was expected to cost between $250,000 and $300,000, Kinyon said. The state Canal Corp., which owns the locks, hired Hohl Industrial Services of the Town of Tonawanda to restore two locks for $1.74 million.
“We were disappointed to learn it would take two years to build the boat,” Kinyon said.
At a meeting of his committee in late November, members were told the boat could be done by July. That turned out to be overoptimistic.
The plans call for a boat 65 feet long and 12 feet wide, drawing 2 feet of water, said Peter Welsby, the veteran engineer who serves on the locks committee.
“It’s going to be a community boat-building project,” Welsby said. “Once we get it started, it’ll take two years to get it built.”
Word of the boat delay came from a Thursday board meeting of the Greater Lockport Development Corp., the city’s development agency.
R. Charles Bell, city planning and development director, told the board that Buffalo Maritime Center, which is to oversee the boat construction, wanted construction space in city-controlled Harrison Place for two years.
The board was not enthusiastic about the request for the entire 60,000-square-foot first floor of Building 3 at the former auto parts plant on Walnut Street, which the city has sought with considerable success to convert into a home for numerous business.
Trek Inc., an electronic instrument maker, employs more than 90 people in Harrison Place after moving its operations from Medina last year.
Bell said it would be “premature” to tie up the entire ground floor of Building 3, especially in view of the lack of funding to build the boat.
Harry Sicherman, the Amherst development consultant, who was rehired by the GLDC Thursday on a $10,000, one-year contract, said he’d like to see the boat work limited to about 15,000 square feet, so the remainder of the floor could still be marketed to potential business tenants.
Bell said he’s received some interest in Building 3 in the wake of a September familiarization tour for commercial real estate developers.
The development board did vote to form a subsidiary to oversee the operations of the Flight of Five.
The Locks Heritage District Corp. would be governed by the GLDC board, with the Locks Heritage Committee “as a subset,” Bell said.
The corporation would be in charge of hiring staff to work at the Flight. Bell said, “We want to tread lightly and not commit beyond our means.”