Halfway through term mayor sees hope for city

When Anthony J. Dolce took office as mayor of Dunkirk in 2012, he had a good idea of what was in front of him. After serving as a councilman for almost 10 years before becoming mayor, including the last two as the at-large member, Dolce had experience in City Hall.

With some two years left in his term, Dolce is hoping some plans that have been in the works become reality. The harbor area, including the area from the CSX tracks to Lake Erie from Main Street to Brigham Road, is considered to be a key part of development in the city.

Developing the former Bertges property owned by the Dunkirk Local Development Corporation, along with the city-owned property between the Clarion Hotel, Marina and Conference Center and Tim Hortons is a work in progress, according to Dolce.

“We have been in talks with a potential developer for the Bertges site. The goal would be mixed use; office space, possibly retail and condos possibly,” the mayor told the OBSERVER recently. “That’s one thing we’ve been working on.”

Trying to secure a SUNY 2020 grant for a research vessel, museum and science labs to fill the hole between the Clarion Tim Hortons is in the works again.

“The state has announced another round of SUNY 2020 funding. If we can develop those two areas, not only could it lead to future development down the road, it basically fills in those two gaps along the waterfront and that would solidify that,” Dolce explained. “Being on the waterfront is a natural attraction to many people, that’s something we’re really looking to market. I think we have a great team that’s out there making those phone calls, forming those relationships. Again, being in that wait-and-see pattern, I think some people are just holding out.”

The recent announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo concerning NRG and its future was good news for the city, according to Dolce.

“Now that we know we’re going to be stable, that should encourage developers to plant some roots here with confidence,” he explained. “We’ve had some wonderful success with grants and those help us repurpose buildings and hopefully even build a new one. This Main Street grant is a good opportunity if we can encourage businesses to rehab their facades, there’s even some interior work that can be done with those funds.”

With the city looking to draw tourists and their dollars to the harbor area, Dolce was asked if the current makeup and use of the area, including the Coburn Block, low-income housing and multiple churches, can fit in with development plans.

“We believe it can, it’s not easy by any means, but in the conversations we’ve had with SUNY Fredonia about the lot they’re interested in, and the potential developer for the Bertges site, they haven’t said that’s a concern of theirs,” he replied. “What we want to do to try and make it more appealing is use the New York Main Street grant to try and dress up the Coburn Block and make it more appealing to developers, tourists and what not. The Main Street grant is specifically for your Main Street, for us Central Avenue, two blocks, three blocks either way.”

The 300 block of Central Avenue is another area that has seen better times. The fire that destroyed the former Masonic Temple building along with neighboring One Liberty Square has left a big hole to fill.

“We met with the new owner of the Masonic Temple site and just introduced ourselves and said here’s what we have to offer in conjunction with other funds, and this and that. Maybe there’s some possibilities through StartUp NY, another business relocating maybe, there’s possibilities,” Dolce said. “Those are in the hands of private developers and even the ones we own, like Bertges and the Flickinger, it’s not an easy market and with the unknown of NRG for so long, I wouldn’t be surprised if some potential developers were taking a wait and see approach. We are ramping up our efforts.”

Across the street from the lots, the street-level storefronts are filled, but there is not much on the upper floors of most buildings.

“You drive by those and it’s looking great down below. We’ve had a couple smaller storefronts improve, and then you look up top,” Dolce said. “We would love to see some of those turn into apartments or even more office space. I know there’s code requirements. I know one of them would need a new elevator in there and it’s not cheap to put an elevator in. So if there’s any avenues there where the city can help, maybe through the IDA, we’d be willing to listen to anyone that comes forward.”

A perception of the city by some non-residents that is not positive is one of the concerns in City Hall.

“I think that’s been overcome to an extent, but it’s still something we need to continuously work on, but I think we’re doing that. We’re able to showcase all the good things we have going on down here,” Dolce stated. “When the festivals started I think that was a great way to attract people from out of town and show them this is a great place. That would be the major one in my opinion, and the economy in general.

“As low as interest rates are, it’s still having to find people willing to invest millions of dollars into either a new building or rehabbing an old building. The county IDA, the LLC formed there for the Roberts Road, there’s some potential there for the repurposing of the Roblin Steel-Edgewood area there, and that’s going to be about a $14 million project. There’s some good things going on but there’s always going to be obstacles.”

Like most officials in local government, Dolce said things take time to develop.

“We’re still looking at some properties and it takes time. It’s encouraging knowing we’re making progress on a couple but they’re not done. And then when they’re done there’s more to be done,” he explained. “We do have a lot of vacant property, buildings that need to be repurposed and remodeled. It gets frustrating but we keep pushing the envelope.”

Dolce said there are some things to get excited about in 2014, including the start of construction on the Lake Front Boulevard seawall.

“It’s not just the seawall, it’s going to transform that whole area when it’s all said and done with Phase 3 of the bike path. We’re going to be doing the fire hall studies, so maybe the goal there being to come up with a plan of action on how to address them,” he added. “The public knows something needs to happen there. Two of them are really falling into disrepair. We’ll be continuing to tweak our festivals, we know how much the public enjoys those. And StartUp NY is an opportunity that we think can really benefit the city long term.”

Stay tuned, 2014 is just around the corner.

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