Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 12, 2014

Successes, challenges define year

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — For the City of Lockport, momentum from economic development will carry on in 2014, but it comes with a host of fiscal challenges, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said Tuesday in his annual State of the City address.

In 2013, Lockport was labeled a city in “moderate fiscal stress” by the state Comptroller’s Office. That led to an audit that suggested poor accounting and budgeting practices were two major reasons for the fiscal stress.

That was on top of the city getting hit with flash flooding in June and a damaging ice storm in December. The damage from the flood resulted in a visit from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Still, the positives of 2013 outweigh the negatives, Tucker told his audience, members of the Lockport Rotary Club. 

In his address, Tucker touted the successes of the year, such as Trek Inc. relocating to Harrison Place. Work also began on restoration of two of the five 19th-century Erie Canal locks, known as the Flight of Five, which is scheduled to be completed this summer.

The infamous Main Street parking ramp came down, bringing 48 new parking spaces and a nice view of the canal downtown. Several businesses opened, relocated or expanded, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in downtown investment,Tucker said.

Economic development is the key to the city’s future, the mayor said.

”Lockport is open for business and will continue to be,” Tucker said.

Tucker said the city is negotiating to bring in another major tenant for Harrison Place, to occupy 30,000 square feet in the former auto parts plant. He declined to give details but said the tenant would bring 100 to 120 jobs to the complex.

Development of Lockport Ice Arena & Sports Center is coming along, Tucker said. Demolition of the former supermarket at 34 Chestnut St. is complete and the 93,500-square-foot, $13 million arena is slated to open in the fall. 

Twenty-thirteen “was a year of unprecedented development, unlike anything that we have ever seen before, and we are riding that momentum into 2014,” he said.

Also last year, creation of a law enforcement “Impact Zone” in the central city led to 772 properties receiving building inspection, and 398 arrests.

In his address, Tucker acknowledged the city’s fiscal stress labeling. City officials will work to improve the situation and auditors are coming back to City Hall this month.

“I can assure you that this label was not and is not taken lightly. Work began immediately to get our city back on track,” he said.

Tucker praised the Hickory Club police union for agreeing to a new, cost-cutting labor agreement with the city. The city is committed to negotiating new contracts with its four other unions “that help the employees and help to get the city back on track,” he said.

The June 28 flash flood caused an estimated $7.2 million in damage to homes and businesses in the city. Tucker noted that local advocacy on property owners’ behalf inspired Albany to cut 313 checks, totaling $2.2 million, for affected residents.

One casualty of the 2014 city budget was the Canal Concert Series. Tucker said he’s confident Lockport will again have some kind of outdoor music series this summer, as long as it comes without any cost to the city. While declining to name the promoters who’d run the new series, he told the Rotarians that he’s been in contact with them and one promoter in particular has experience running a “large festival event in Niagara County.”

”I just spoke with them this morning,” Tucker said. “The have the experience... they’re just looking to find a large sponsor.”

The promoters have talked with some bands, so putting together a lineup “is probably the least of their worries,” he added.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.