Wow Dunkirk!

If the city of Dunkirk hasn’t been on your radar lately, take another look. Big things are happening-from international sporting events to sleek thoroughfares, and a new company moving in that will call Chautauqua County home.

“The city of Dunkirk is revitalizing,” Mayor Willie Rosas told me during a recent phone interview, a statement that fails to underscore the excitement a lot of residents feel about the progress the city is making in bringing in new jobs and making it a more beautiful, exciting place to live.

State Sen. Catharine Young referred to the mood in Dunkirk in a published statement as a “rising sense of optimism in the community.”

And while the announcement that the city successfully lured in the Grand Prix speed boat race this August was big news, there are quite a few other things to be excited about, too.

“The Mayor is being humble,” Hector Rosas told me. “There may be twenty construction projects going on right now.”

Hector Rosas, who is the city’s Festival and Special Events Coordinator, was a bit breathless when we spoke, sandwiched in between meetings with safety coordinators from the Grand Prix and Homeland Security and an interview with Channel 4 in Buffalo.

Beyond the race, the city also received $2.5 million in state funding to improve the city’s waterfront and they’ve decided to start with the pier. Designs under consideration include adding green space, new lighting, seating and a play area. The pier plays hosts to the city’s summer concert series and is also a popular spot for fishermen.

Another exciting development is the Central Connection project, which will focus on the three-mile corridor connecting the city, the village of Fredonia and the State University of New York at Fredonia. The upgraded corridor will include bike lanes, new banners, and intersection improvements within the city and village.

When Athenex, a pharmaceutical company, announced they would build a facility in Dunkirk, it began “one of the most ambitious manufacturing projects in Western New York history,” according to one Buffalo Business First reporter. The company has pledged to create 450 new jobs and 450 indirect jobs as a result of the project.

In addition, a new Wyndham hotel is in the works along the waterfront as well as a new housing complex called Battery Park Villas, which will host 94 upscale apartments, condos and single-family homes and will be built in three phases.

The city is also currently revitalizing two parks-Point Gratiot and Wright parks.

Wright Park sits along the shoreline in the eastern part of the city and work has already begun to update its amenities, including “a new multi-purpose court which can be flooded in the winter for an ice rink, a splash pad with multiple activity areas for different ages, as well as a rain garden, new bathrooms, seating, improved parking, updated basketball courts, and four new pickleball courts,” according to an article in the Observer Today.

Point Gratiot Park, called “the jewel of the Dunkirk community” because of its picturesque location on the Lake Erie waterfront, has new roofs on pavilions, improved electrical service for live entertainment and new bathrooms. Two other parks in the area have undergone or will undergo improvement projects.

But the bulk of the city’s energy right now is centered on the 2018 Off Shore Grand Prix, a speed boat racing competition that will be televised to 105 countries by NBC and may attract up to 100,000 spectators on August 18th and 19th, with festivities beginning on the 17th.

Both the mayor and Hector Rosas spoke about the frenetic pace they’ve been keeping to prepare for the event. Prepping for security and safety alone was a three-day undertaking this week as event organizers, dive teams, city officials and state and federal agencies gathered to make sure safety standards were being met.

Thirty racing boats worth $2 million dollars each will compete on the waters off of Dunkirk, attracting scores of fans from the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Nearby hotels are nearly booked and businesses are gearing up for a big weekend.

The mayor emphasized that they’ve partnered with their Chamber of Commerce to get the word out about other attractions in the area so visitors can take advantage of everything Chautauqua County has to offer, including the new Comedy Center in Jamestown, as well as the grape belt and wine country. They’re making up pamphlets for spectators that highlight what our beautiful county has to offer.

In a world where we have witnessed the slow degradation of the country’s rural areas, we have a lot to be proud of here in Western New York.

From the good news coming from Dunkirk to the revitalization of Buffalo and the creation of our Comedy Center and the new hotel in Celoron, it’s important to take stock in what’s been accomplished.

We all crave a sense of place and connectedness–the sort of feeling small towns and rural areas so amply provide. By bringing in new spaces, businesses and ideas, we make our communities stronger and encourage our young people to stay right here.