A proposed project to develop a city-owned property on the harborfront went public Tuesday.
City of Dunkirk Development Director Steve Neratko explained the details of the project, which would involve the city, SUNY Fredonia, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state's Department of Environmental Conservation at a meeting of the Common Council Economic Development Committee.
Neratko said the project had been in the works for about six months.
OBSERVER Photos by Gib Snyder
Top: Pictured is the city-owned lot which may become a home for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service research and exhibition facility.
"We've been working with the college, they're really the prinicipal in the project. They're looking to go after a SUNY 20-20 Grant, I think they're actually going to go after $8 to $10 million. That's still being discussed," Neratko explained. "That would go toward a field station and a research vessel for Lake Erie. There is no research vessel for the lower Great Lakes, that would be Lake Ontario and Lake Erie; there is one for the upper Great Lakes."
Neratko said the boat would probably be between 60 to 80 feet long and capable of a week of research at a time.
"In the field station, as well as the vessel, there will be scientists from both U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services as well as the DEC. There will also be SUNY Fredonia students, professors, high school students, really this is going to be utilized by a lot of people," he continued. "Now, it should be noted that the project really depends on whether the college is going to be able to get the grant. The boat itself is going to cost $4-5 million, so without the grant the project won't be dead, but we'll looking for other sources of funds."
Neratko said all the details have yet to be worked out but meetings are continuing until the grant deadline in mid October.
"The building they were previously looking at would probably be a two or three-story building with dry labs, wet labs, have a conference area. It will have kind of a visitor center built in; that's just phase 1," he stated. "Phase 2 would probably incorporate a much larger building that would house U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services permanently. Right now they are being moved from downtown Buffalo to Montezuma Wildlife Refuge."
Neratko said that was near the Finger Lakes but not Lake Erie or Lake Ontario.
"We've been discussing the opportunities for them to locate this facility on our harbor. They're very interested in the location between the Clarion Hotel and Tim Hortons," he continued. "They're hoping that the way they would design that facility would allow for additional uses at that location as well, whether it be additional uses the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is looking for such as ... the possibilities are really endless.
"They would like to have an amphitheater, conference space, a fishery located here, an area where the soft species such as amphibians and that sort of stuff, kind of a fishery for those types of animals as well. There are none of those in New York state and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not have a fishery of its own in New York state. The DEC does, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services actually brings the fish they stock Lake Erie with from Vermont right now and the problem is they have a pretty big loss when they transport here.
"They would like something where they could just open up a gate."
Neratko said there was potential for good-paying jobs growth with the project over time.
"What they're looking for now is they would like some sort of commitment from the city of Dunkirk to go forward with this," he stated.
In response to a question from Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak, Neratko said "this won't cost the city anything."
"What the college is looking for from the city is a similar situation to when they took over the property to build the incubator," he added. "They could be looking to use that as a model as to how this would develop, although we have discussed the opportunities of rather than selling the land we may lease it so that if in the future they move or lose interest, the property would come back to the city."
Neratko left open the possibility of some sort of payment as the project would be tax exempt.
Second Ward Councilman William Rivera asked about phases of the project.
"This could be something that is an endless growing program. I can't even remember all the possibilities they brought up over the past six months because it is just enormous," Neratko replied. "They're interested in the piece of property, its east and north of the (wastewater) treatment plant. There is a conservation area on the lake near the houses near Otter and all that right on the lake. They would actually like to utilize some of that space as an urban wildlife refuge, which would be able to bring in a lot of money to upkeep it."
Neratko said that could tie into the city's still-to-be-completed bike trail.
"We're doing a lot with the bike trails in town. Once we have the seawall and everything completed, really we would have a bike path that could go all the way down the lake and that parcel there would kind of be the terminus of it. ... In a lot of areas the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners with private industry. This could really bring in other businesses that could help out."
Neratko said the Service also does festivals and was interested in bringing its largest one, which draws 4-5,000 people, to the city.
Rivera asked what the city's commitment would have to be. Neratko said it would take a council resolution at the meeting next week.
"This location would allow the possibility of either building one building and expanding on to it, or building one building and then building another completely different building to house the actual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," Neratko added. "This field station will be utilized not just U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it will be utilized by them by the DEC, by the college, by just folks in general."
The grant application is due Oct. 14 and if successful, the project would start soon, according to Neratko.
"This is a SUNY grant so the timeline is a lot different than the state grants. It will probably occur pretty quickly, a month or two to find out," he added. "I would expect that if we get the grant we'll see development next spring."
Dunkirk's possible gain is Buffalo's loss.
"This project was in the works for about 10 years in the Inner Harbor of Buffalo and when that fell apart they lost their spot there. Since that happened a few years ago they've been working with the city of Buffalo to try and figure something out and haven't made it anywhere," he explained. "They were very surprised when they came down here and heard we were interested and that everything has moved so quickly."
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