After string of bad luck, Gowanda sees funds as a positive for the village

OBSERVER Photo by Andrew David Kuczkowski Gowanda Mayor David Smith stands in the center holding a $2.5 million check for the village of Gowanda as Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is to his left at the end of the check and Gov. Cuomo is at the right. Below is Cuomo, addressing those in attendance.

NORTH TONAWANDA — Gowanda Mayor David Smith had a smile as if he was on a reality show on Wednesday. He also had a billboard-like check of $2.5 million in his hands.

No, the money wasn’t for him, but the village that he serves.

The money was from the state’s Smart Growth Community Fund as part of the Buffalo Billion 2. Smith and village officials stood proud knowing that the $2.5 million nearly matches the village’s annual spending of $3.3 million.

“We have $2.5 million to beautify our awesome community and our community has gone through so much with the floods of ’09 and ’14, and the economic impact that that had, coupled with the loss of businesses and the tannery and glue factory, even the Gowanda Psychiatric Center over the years,” Smith said. “Our community lost a lot. … It’s time for Gowanda to dance in the sun, instead of trembling in the rain. Our time is now and we went for it and we got it.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the $2.5 million checks for Dunkirk, Gowanda, North Tonawanda and Lackawanna on Wednesday. Cuomo noted that the original Buffalo Billion was to enhance the city of Buffalo, however, moving forward, the governor saw benefits in a “regional approach.”

“(Let’s get) a more regional approach and more downtown revitalizations to some of the small cities,” Cuomo said. “So, we really start to spread out because the strongest is when the entire region is working and is coming back. So you don’t just have a few big engines of economic action, you have multiple ones. And that’s what the next phase of the Buffalo Billion 2. … The vision comes from the local government.”

Three cogs to Cuomo’s plan are to revitalize downtown areas, bring millennials back and make the region less car dependent.

For Gowanda, these are reflected in the village’s goal to create more waterfront locations and improvements to the business district.

Mayor Smith, despite having a deficit in his political background, won the village’s top position as he was known for putting Gowanda first as an administrator at the school. After the election, he was quick to act. He started a mentorship program that began this fall with the Gowanda Central School District.

Regional representative of the governor, Lori Cornell, spoke to the winners of November’s election and during their talk, the mentorship program came about. The mentorship was something that strengthened the bond between the newly elected official and the governor’s office.

“She said, ‘Oh, you’re going to score big points with the governor’s office. That’s a project of the governor because his mother started that when Mario was in office,'” Smith said of Cornell. “So, we did that then the next thing was when Gowanda High School hosted the governor’s office for the Excelsior Program for free-tuition at SUNY and CUNY colleges.”

From there, Smith learned about his opportunities for the revitalization program.

The projects that Gowanda listed were to enhance the waterfront access and safety of Zoar Valley Gateway Park, Creekside Park (behind Shop’n Save) and Aldrich Street bridge. The village also aims to improve the parking lot for the business district behind the Hollywood Theater, which will benefit the businesses and the theater that is soon to be completed.

Finally, the village would like to add better parking at the railroad station at the bend of Palmer and Commercial streets as well as fixing and improving the ticket office. The goal for the station is to be the midpoint between Jamestown and Buffalo.

Smith acknowledged that it wasn’t a one-man team for the project and that help was what got the village the large funds. At face value, it is $2.5 million, however, if applied with consolidation funds and matching grants, the money could tally to even more.

“Special thanks to Andy Burr and Traci Hopkins for all the work they did, to our village board for all of their support, to our non-profits like the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Corporation and our friends at the Hollywood Theater for backing us up on the way,” Smith said. “It’s just a first-class village.”

Twitter: @Kuczkowski95