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Updated: 05/21/09 08:33 AM

Commission says Lockport wine project not part of Greenway

By Aaron Besecker

A proposed Lockport retail outlet that would sell Niagara County-produced goods, pegged by supporters as a potential center for tourists interested in the county’s Wine Trail, failed to receive the endorsement of the Niagara River Greenway Commission this week.

By a 6-4 vote, the commission found the Canalside Wine Emporium proposal did not meet the goals of a 2007 master plan for a Buffalo-to- Youngstown recreational trail along the Niagara River.

The Greenway Commission holds no power to award funding, but its denial raises roadblocks for the project receiving any share of the $9 million in annual funding dedicated to Greenway projects.

The project may not have fallen on Tuesday had two state agencies, which had made their decisions before Tuesday’s meeting and voted by proxy, known about changes made since the initial application.

Initially, the proposal from Beautiful Vision LLC called for the property at 79 Canal St. to be privately owned. The project, as presented Tuesday, had been changed — the City of Lockport would now maintain ownership of the building.

The project has been pitched as a retail space for wine and other goods that don’t have an easy avenue into the marketplace. The space would have wine tastings from wineries on the growing Niagara trail, and could also become a center for tourists, with concierge service with information about other Niagara County attractions, sponsors said.

“We’re talking about something that has a great potential for bringing a lot of things together in the county, and acting as a unifying source for tourists and residents,” said Jack Martin of Beautiful Vision.

Martin said Wednesday he was disappointed in Tuesday’s result, especially because even some of the commissioners who voted it down at the same time said the proposal was a great idea.

The project will still move forward, and other funding sources will be sought, he said. Sponsors had been seeking $100,000 in Greenway funds for acquisition costs, according to their initial application.

Applicants who fail to receive commission endorsement are free to resubmit their plans, said Rob Belue, the commission’s executive director.

Some of the commissioners deemed the project inconsistent because they believed the project’s location was outside the boundaries of the Greenway, as well as the location having limited connections to the Niagara River, though some who voted in favor considered the project to have sufficient geographic ties with the Greenway.

The Greenway plan defines the boundary of the system to the 13 municipalities, the ones that border the Niagara River, as well as Kenmore.

The commission members who voted against the proposal were Chairman Robert J. Kresse, City of Tonawanda Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi, Commissioner Paul G. Leuchner of Grand Island, as well as the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Department of State and the Empire State Development Corp.

The commission members who voted in favor of the proposal were Village of Lewiston Mayor Richard F. Soluri, along with the State Parks Office, the state Department of Transportation and the New York Power Authority.

Two commission seats are currently vacant, and Commissioner John Giardino of Buffalo was absent from the meeting, which took place in the Beaver Island State Park clubhouse on Grand Island.

The Department of State representative, in written comments supplied to the commission, said the project “has some potential to trigger reinvestment in the Niagara Wine Trail,” as well as “potential to revitalize an urban center.”

Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he was angered by the commission’s vote, but said the project will move forward. The city’s development agency, Greater Lockport Development Corp., might spend $100,000 of its own money to fix up the building and then sell it to Beautiful Visions, he said.

“There were some great projects, but ours was the best,” Tucker said of the projects reviewed by the Greenway Commission on Tuesday.

Soluri, who said the state agencies meet as a group prior to commission votes to discuss proposals, said he believes the project has enough connection to the Greenway because of its ties to the Wine Trail.

Soluri also said he thinks Beautiful Vision should resubmit its proposal.

“I [also] think they probably could have used some backing from the county or the [Host Community] Standing Committee,” he said.

Seven governments and school districts in the county receive a $3 million allocation every year for Greenway projects. Those entities are Niagara County, Niagara Falls, Lewiston, the Town of Niagara and the school districts of Lewiston- Porter, Niagara Falls and Niagara- Wheatfield. Those seven entities, along with the Power Authority, sit on the Host Community Standing Committee.

The Lockport project was the only one among 10 proposals that failed to receive the Greenway Commission’s endorsement.

Here are the proposals that were endorsed:

Tree regeneration project at Tifft Nature Preserve, proposed by the Buffalo Museum of Science; the Union Ship Canal Open Space Project in Buffalo; access and safety improvements at the Cave of the Winds in Niagara Falls State Park; stair replacement at Artpark; creation of operations plan at Niagara Falls State Park; a proposed trail to connect the East River Marsh Enhancement Project and the South State Parkway bike/pedestrian trail through Beaver Island State Park; a handicapped-accessible paddle sports launch in Beaver Island State Park; creation of a scenic pathway from Lower River Road in Lewiston to Devil’s Hole State Park in Niagara Falls; and development of the Town of Porter recreation plan.