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Publisher’s notebook: After renovations, some grand plans

OBSERVER Photo
The Joseph Steger Apartments last week celebrated more than $1 million in improvements on the inside and outside.

OBSERVER Photo The Joseph Steger Apartments last week celebrated more than $1 million in improvements on the inside and outside.

One of the best vantage points of Lake Erie and the city of Dunkirk can be found at the Joseph Steger Apartments at 15 N. Main St. Sights from the upper-level apartments give a bird’s-eye view of the waters — rough and calm — as well as a picturesque scene from floor 11 of car and pedestrian traffic through the downtown district.

On Oct. 12, the Dunkirk Housing Authority and its board members held a ceremony that centered around the $1 million in recent renovations at the location. From the outside, you can see the facade work that has taken place in recent months. On the inside, the hallways still have the appearance of being from the 1970s and ’80s, but it was a brighter, cleaner look for the structure that stands impressive along the city shoreline.

After a brief introduction, many in attendance went outside for a formal ribbon-cutting. Applause to Judith Presutti, executive director of the Housing Authority, and its board of directors led by Donna Brisky as chairwoman. The project, especially with the investment of public dollars, is worth cherishing.

Make no mistake, it’s prime lakefront property. Real estate is all about location and this high-rise has it all. But right now, about 100 of the Steger Apartments are for those with low and limited income.

Its mission serves a tremendous purpose — and those residents are an important part of our region. That being said, it may be time for the city Authority — with all its recent improvements — to look at marketing the structure to a private developer for high-rent living. It may be worth more today than ever.

That’s because Dunkirk has hopes tied to a number of initiatives. When Athenex arrives with the promise of a potential 900 jobs, the need for high-rent housing — especially by the lake — will grow. It could include those in management positions with the company who want a place to call home when doing business here.

Other prospects along the lake include the Battery Point apartments and a hotel that would be placed next to the Clarion. There’s even optimism at the former Bertges site that the county Industrial Development Agency has assumed as new owner.

All these possible projects would bring new energy to downtown, especially Lake Shore Drive.

Earlier this month, Dunkirk was the recipient of Smart Growth funding during a press conference in Tonawanda. Mayor Wilfred Rosas was on hand when state Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the grant.

“The city of Dunkirk is in the process of a new facade ourselves and it’s not just downtown, it’s our waterfront,” Rosas said during the Oct. 12 event. “These funds, the $2.5 million we are going to receive from the state, are going to be focused on upgrades to our waterfront. This project here … is going to coincide with what we want on our waterfront. … We’re looking to draw people here to our waterfront.”

Investing in the waterfront is something this area has not enough of in recent years. However, it was not for lack of trying from the private sector.

In 2001, Dick and Sally Mirth moved back to their hometown and saw the value of the waterfront and proposed condominiums to city leadership. As usual, the plan was different than what was currently taking place on the water’s edge — nothing — and elected officials put little effort into helping spur development. Mirth, however, ignored the naysayers and took on the project with his own capital and the support of about 30 local businesses.

In the end, two waterfront condos were completed in March 2007 and showcased to many in the community. Even after his investment in the two properties, Dick Mirth had some doubts. “I don’t think you can build these and sell them in this area with the taxes,” he said. “Without a tax break, there is no way (developers) can make a profit.”

Dunkirk Housing Authority, however, is an arm of the city government and is in control of the newly renovated high rise. If the city is serious about revitalizing the waterfront, it needs to look toward a new vision for its high-rise.

With location being everything, it’s another prime opportunity we cannot afford to keep waiting on.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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