By Neale Gulley
The Tonawanda News
TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Citing eight years and $20 million in cleanup, Erie County’s top official on Thursday stood at the former Spaulding Fibre site in the City of Tonawanda. They spoke of a bright future where he said post-industry decay “lurked for years.”
County Executive Mark Poloncarz joined elected officials and development interests at the windswept 47-acre parcel — the city’s largest potential business development offering — to recap eight years of nearly continuous efforts to clean up, demolish and prepare the property for tax-paying businesses to move in.
”We see a site that is ready for action,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who grew up near the once-bustling factory that employed thousands, including his grandfather.
While there was little new news, many similar sentiments were offered genuinely, and efforts are in full swing to market the parcel now vacant but replete with a brand new roadway, curbs and infrastructure.
Ken Swanekamp, director of business assistance for the county’s Department of Environment and Planning, said a retention pond at one end of the property serves the entire future development, eliminating the need for companies relocating there to invest in stormwater plans. Other incentives intended to sweeten the deal for potential companies include the land’s inclusion in the state Excelsior tax credit program.
”I am the third county executive since this project began,” Poloncarz said of efforts involving Erie County, city, state and federal agencies to undo the environmental effects Spaulding’s legacy left.
The property was tied up in bankruptcy until 2005, when the city was left with a contaminated and falling-down facility including a four-acre Superfund site. Demolition took place between 2006 and 2010 with help from Schimminger, who supported the relatively new Restore New York program, all as extensive DEC-led soil remediation slowly continued.
”This site is a good example of what can happen when committed partners work together,” Poloncarz said.
The huge property once home to some 860,000 square feet of factory buildings before the plant shuttered in 1992, is expected to be divided into roughly two to five-acre plots and offered to businesses both locally and nationally.
City of Tonawanda Mayor Ron Pilozzi, who took over in 2006 in time to see the project through its earliest days, admitted there was a time he wasn’t so sure the plot would ever be ready for development.
He said on Thursday he’s optimistic about the odds of adding new businesses — and vital tax revenue — to the small city of only a few square miles.
”It’s very promising — obviously we want to do something as quickly as possible to get this back on the tax rolls.”
While those negotiations continue, however, Pilozzi said he didn’t want to discuss any specifics.
Promotion of the site is now being handled by the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, as a real estate agent for the project is sought.
Contact city editor Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 4114