Revitalization Plan Puts Dunkirk’s Waterfront, Business District At Forefront
DUNKIRK — Not every community has a major resource like Lake Erie on its doorstep, and even fewer have the untapped potential of the city of Dunkirk’s waterfront.
A plan to make Dunkirk’s waterfront a destination and its Central Avenue business district a corridor to that attraction is in the final stages.
The city started phase two of the Brownfield Opportunity Area planning process over a year ago and according to Planning and Development Director Rebecca Yanus, she expects to have the final draft for review any day now before passing it on to the state for final approval.
WHAT IS THE GOAL?
“A BOA really helps realize a community’s vision for redevelopment and community revitalization,” Young said. “The city of Dunkirk has an immense amount of brownfield sites and vacant sites and this phase is really identifying those sites and deciding what kinds of plans and projects we want to see in the future in the city of Dunkirk.”
Brownfields are properties that have suffered contamination in the past that creates a financial roadblock for redevelopment. A BOA plan, once approved, creates a designated area that is eligible for state grants and tax credits. However, the plan is not limited to brownfields.
“The overall goal is to remove blight and spur economic development by identifying opportunities for reinvestment and revitalization,” Yanus noted. “It’s important that we go through phase two of the study because the overall goal is to become a BOA-designated community. This really helps us because it gives us the support from the department of state.”
The first phase identified sites and the second phase narrowed the focus and developed a vision “to create within the waterfront area of the city of Dunkirk a vibrant recreational, commercial and cultural center to promote new economic development and investment in the city, resulting in significant job growth and expanded tax base.”
Yanus added this is a pivotal time for Dunkirk to undergo revitalization.
“Over the years, there has been an obvious population decline, but with Athenex coming in with those 900 jobs all around and the 450 for forever essentially, we need to look at bringing the community back together and creating a place so the employees want to live and stay in our community,” she said.
THE NEXT CANALSIDE
There’s no reason Dunkirk can’t be the home of the next Canalside, drawing locals and tourists alike to the Buffalo waterfront, if plans come to fruition.
“We’re looking at how we may reprogram the public space here at the pier and how we may connect to (Memorial) Park, NRG and some key improvements on Lake Shore Drive,” Keith Ewald, managing landscape architect at Barton & Loguidice, explained.
Parts of “reprogramming” the waterfront is making Lake Shore Drive more walkable through cross walks, medians and bike lanes; incorporating signage that directs visitors to the water; re-branding the waterfront to something relatable; and creating a visible destination when driving down Central Avenue to the waterfront through commercial development and add-ons to the public space like a band shell.
Each of these “big-ticket” projects is expected to cost around a million dollars, give or take a couple hundred thousand. However, when it comes to return on investment, the waterfront is the best place to spend it.
“This (waterfront) is where the biggest bang for your buck is going to be with public funding and private investment in the near term and when this starts to turn, a lot of the other stuff outside of this area is hopefully start happening as well in the city of Dunkirk,” Ewald added. “… The idea is we reprogram the roadway, reprogram the space to benefit public and private investment and have a better working waterfront. … It becomes a destination; you’ve only got the bones of that now.”
Other areas of interest for redevelopment include Bertges on Lake Shore Drive as a commercial area and restaurant, the city-owned property on Lake Shore Drive as a hotel, the space used by NRG for previous coal activities as an environmental education center ad the vacant lot across from city hall on Central Avenue.
“With this vision it really shows the need of reinvestment in our waterfront community and our downtown core Central business district. So, our focus areas included our waterfront, our Central business district, different housing opportunities within this BOA boundary, different industrial sites we could utilize, possible cleanup potential for these industrial sites and redevelopment of these sites and community connectivity because we can’t forget that regional approach,” Yanus noted. “We have to look at our market shared with Fredonia, due to our geographic proximity. In the past, we’ve looked at a market study that specifically reflected the fact that half of the city of Dunkirk’s job force goes to Fredonia while half of Fredonia’s job force goes to the city of Dunkirk. We can’t live and work without each other so we have to work together. That’s huge.”
She added once the city reviews the BOA final draft, it will be sent to the department of state for a rigorous review, but she is hopeful to hear good news as early as next month.
“Reinvestment will require a plan and leadership to start improvements in the waterfront area, followed by new residential and retail,” Yanus said. “We’re hoping to spur growth in the city and right now we have the planning efforts such as the BOA, we’re updating our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, we’re going to be starting our comprehensive plan.”