Region still missing boat with waters

Submitted Photo With an affordable cost of living — and four great seasons — there’s no reason Dunkirk-Fredonia can’t make the list of “Best Places” to live.

Dick Mirth knew the lure of Dunkirk and the waterfront before many here actually quite understood it. The former city resident moved back to the area in 2001 after he retired for the scenic views, sunsets and, quite frankly, the affordable cost of living.

While here, he also attempted to do something no one else has done in the last two decades: get leaders and private investors to build condominiums along the lake. His thought was simple: if you build it by the waters and make it affordable, the seniors — especially those with disposable income — will come.

He even invested his own dollars to make it happen. Two waterfront condos, that still exist on Lake Front Boulevard, were completed by Mirth, his late wife, Sally, and a number of local business partners in March 2007 that were showcased to many in the community.

He was a man ahead of this area’s time.Today, the waterfront is a key piece to the future of the city of Dunkirk. It’s too bad in the mid 2000s, no one wanted to jump on board with Mirth’s vision.

Why the trip back in time? An article from the AARP magazine for the months of June and July highlight the “Best Places to Live for under $40,000 a year.” Listed in the article are Alton, Ill., Duluth, Ga., McMinnville, Ore. and San Marcos, Texas.

What stood out, however, was another entry in the list: Canandaigua, N.Y. It’s appeal, according to the magazine, includes “local wines, landmarks and four seasons of outdoor activities.”

In all actuality, that sounds similar to the Dunkirk-Fredonia region more than Canandaigua, especially when you truly get down to the demographics.

Being from the Finger Lakes, specifically Geneva and Ontario County where Canandaigua also is located, that was the high-rent district. There was very little affordability to living there.

In fact, the median housing price is a good indicator — at $191,600. That’s quite a step up from Dunkirk at $52,400 and even Fredonia at $108,700.

Canandaigua, the AARP article also notes, is within 25 miles of metropolitan Rochester. We already can do better than that here. We’re 40 minutes from Buffalo, a major-league city for sports, arts and culture, and about 55 minutes from Erie, Pa.

How about that?

We have Chautauqua Institution, Peek’n Peak and — coming next week — the National Comedy Center in Jamestown all within a one-hour drive. Let’s also not forget the benefits of having a State University of New York at Fredonia, which offers top-notch entertainment at Rockefeller Arts Center as well as musical performances in the Rosch Recital Hall. Some of those performances, especially in the last two weeks, have ventured to the Dunkirk Lighthouse for the wonderful Shakespeare on the Lake series.

In addition, we also have Jamestown Community College. Canandaigua can only boast a two-year school in Finger Lakes Community College.

Truly, the only place Canandaigua outshines us is in the sales tax. We are at 8 percent, they are at 7.5 percent. Thank your Chautauqua County legislators for being on the short end of that.

At the end of the day, image is everything. Canandaigua has the look of being a special gem — that comes at a high cost. Dunkirk-Fredonia has that same very same potential — and it comes with a bargain price.

It is about time we realize all the good that’s here. Then, maybe others — from the outside — will as well.

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