Dunkirk’s harborfront a committee concern

What is happening with the city of Dunkirk’s harborfront and its development is an ongoing concern.

Economic development is the charge of Common Council’s Economic Development Committee and that harborfront development has been a focus of the committee chaired by Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak.

The committee met Monday morning and an update on the Boardwalk Market was on the agenda. Development Director Steve Neratko said a recent meeting with the tenants went well.

“They had some things they wanted to talk about … I think it went fairly well, I think they’re all on the same page now,” he explained. “They seem to have at least five or six businesses there that are on board. … they’re willing to work together, they’re willing to work with us looking into some advertising possibilities for the future. They are going to do a couple of festivals over the summer.”

Neratko stated the Boardwalk merchants were interested in moving the farmers’ market from Memorial Park to the Boardwalk Market area.

“Right outside their facility, there in the parking lot. I told them I would reach out to the Chamber and see … what they thought of that,” he added.

Kiyak asked about the logistics involved.

“I think it could work out,” Neratko replied. “We did explore that opportunity last year. For whatever reason at that time the Boardwalk folks were not on board with that opportunity at the time. Now, it seems like they are. It wasn’t a rough year but it was a down year for them. They’re looking to explore opportunities to bring it back up again.”

Neratko said he has to talk to the Chamber to see if Memorial Park is their preference for 2014 or if they are looking at other sites.

“If they are, this is an opportunity we should at least look into,” Neratko said.

Deputy Development Director Lacy Lawrence said the Boardwalk merchants were interested in doing things for the fall and winter seasons, including the sale of trees at Christmas time. It was noted all but one of the Boardwalk tenants is current, with that payment expected shortly.

Kiyak asked to be informed of the status before the next meeting of her committee.

“Aren’t there a couple of tenants coming up soon?” she then asked.

“There are, Papaya Arts is up and they have a renewal clause,” Neratko replied. “They said they are very interested in continuing.”

Neratko added there were two that don’t have renewal clauses and the leases are up in March.

“Over the next few months we’ll send out a (request for qualifications),” he continued. “Both of them seem to be interested. … I think we’ll be getting applications from them, but we’ll always explore other options.”

Councilman Adelino Gonzalez said one of the complaints he has heard from Boardwalk merchants is the lack of traffic in winter.

“You’ve got to do something to bring the traffic down there and I don’t see them actually ever doing something to attract a crowd, bringing the people down. … They’ve got to do something on their own,” he stated. “It’s their businesses. They want to attract people, they need to do something about that.”

Gonzalez added it shouldn’t be that hard for the merchants to come up with something.

Neratko said again they were planning a fall festival and winter festival and Papaya Arts was working on an event as well.

“They’re also looking to do a kind of summer fest seashell extravaganza,” he continued, explaining other areas with beaches host large events where people come and trade seashells. “They’ve been involved in some of these events in other cities and talking to the people that vend at those events, they are very interested in coming to Dunkirk. They were looking to put that together themselves.”

Neratko said the department would be willing to help with what they could.

“I think they’re finally understanding that they’re going to have to do some stuff together, on their own and as the Boardwalk together as businesses,” he explained. “I was happy to hear they were working together. They are looking to make their association more finalized, to really have six or seven of the businesses that are really putting an effort to make the Boardwalk that place. I was encouraged after the meeting.”

Another part of the harborfront puzzle is a restaurant-type facility being proposed by Chadwick Bay Marina owner Jeff Gambino, which will be on the agenda for a Planning Board meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Stearns Building.

Part of the city-owned marina property has been cleaned by contractors working for the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Neratko said the DEC makes the final call on when that work is over.

Kiyak asked who entered the contract with the DEC on behalf of the city but Neratko said he could not recall, saying it began some four years ago. Neratko said at that time the city said it would do the cleanup but the DEC got tired of waiting

“None of us here were aware there was a potential cleanup needed until the January DEC meeting this year where it was said, ‘you need to clean up now or we’re doing it,'” Neratko explained. “We didn’t have the wherewithal to do it at that moment, we weren’t even aware there was a potential project until that moment.”

The city’s bill might take a few years to receive as the DEC sends all the information on the property to the state’s Attorney General’s office.

Gonzalez was concerned about the overall bill for another part of the harborfront puzzle, the Bertges property.

Neratko said it has been difficult to market the property without knowing all the environmental issues but when it was purchased the DLDC members did know of the environmental risks at the site. He added the cleanup was done in the hopes of helping development.

“If there is a project going forward and you’re in the correct program you get tax credits to develop sites like that. The hope was that we’d be able to get that cleaned up using some DEC grant funds and it just didn’t work out,” Neratko stated. “It didn’t work out because there were too many variables and we were left to figure it out.

“We’re moving ahead. The other problem with that site is also it’s a CDBG site. We’ll be talking about that a whole lot more Wednesday.”

That talk would be at a combined meeting of council and the Dunkirk Local Development Corporation board of directors set for 4 p.m. in City Hall.

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