Editor's note: The following is part II regarding development in the city of Dunkirk.
The city of Dunkirk's Central Avenue between the CSX railroad berm and Lake Erie was once the home to storefronts, businesses, manufacturing and several restaurants. A large part of that economic activity was in the Coburn Block building.
In the 1980s the Coburn Block was acquired, with the blessing of city officials, by Chautauqua County Rural Ministries. The not-for-profit currently occupies seven of the eight parcels that comprise the Coburn Block and while efforts to help those in need are necessary, its location limits the city's ability to develop the Central Avenue block between Lake Shore Drive and Second Street.
The Coburn Block on Central Avenue in Dunkirk.
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce and Development Director Steve Neratko have been working to help both Rural Ministries and city development efforts. Both said current efforts depend on funding through the New York Main Street Grant program.
"Steve has spoken to officials from Rural Ministries and they have definitely expressed an interest," Dolce stated.
"There could be some room where we incentivize tenants to relocate nearby, then we could utilize Main Street funding to revitalize the storefronts along the Coburn Block. Again, it's all depending on the Main Street Grant money, but there's potential to incentivize some relocation and bring in some new businesses along those storefronts there; whereas Rural Ministry would use some of their own funding to do upgrades on the interior, our focus would be on the outside." Dolce continued.
It could result in a mixture and Dolce said there are ways to make it work.
"To me, it really comes down to the dialogue," he explained. "How can we help you? How can you help us and both get what we need out of this? We have had some very productive meetings."
Neratko said the Coburn Block was the focus of the Main Street Grant application.
"We have not heard back on that yet, it was part of the Consolidated Funding Application," he continued. "I would imagine we'd hear by the end of the year. ... There has been some contact about whether the current owners, since they would be the recipient of a grant, would be willing to possibly vacate a couple of those spaces. They would be able to rent the spaces out basically to for-profit entities. It's all very much in discussions."
Neratko said more work is waiting if the grant is approved.
Another piece of property on the 100 block of Central Avenue is currently being used as a church - with the congregation of Iglesias Gethsemani making plans to build a church at its current site, the former United Steel Workers Local 2693 union hall.
Neratko said the church would not be eligible for funding help.
"For the most part, state and federal dollars aren't applicable to religious organizations, so they would not be receiving any assistance from us. We have been in talks with them over the past nine months regarding their current location," he continued. "They had been willing to talk to the city about the potential for other locations in the city. It's been tough though; they would like more than what the city is able to give for the property.
"Our hopes were that we would be able to possibly do a land swap with them and really, we had been in talks with other organizations who had property available to do that land swap and property that, in our opinion and in the opinions of most people, would be a good location for that facility. We just haven't been able to get an agreement from the church."
Neratko said there is quite a bit going on in terms of development.
"We've been working with the college quite a bit on a couple different projects," he explained. "The one that has been announced and there are a couple other projects that they're looking at. Arts incubators, cultural district activities, helping to do with some of the planning processes in the city. They'd like to be more involved and they have the resources to do so."
The Flickinger Building on Washington Avenue is undergoing brownfield cleanup.
"We are working with the preferred developer of the site, Brian Burke, and we hope next year we will be able to make quite a bit of headway on that building," Neratko said. "We are looking to put in an application in next year's CFA for that facility and by the time those awards are made a year from now we hope to have the site cleaned up and ready to go."
Burke was the developer of the Chadwick Bay Lofts on the corner of Washington Avenue and Second Street.
"He said up until recently they had full occupancy there. He said right now, obviously, they need a first floor tenant," Neratko said. Papaya Arts, Wheel People and Cafe 21 sponsored by Literacy Volunteers recently moved out. "Up until now they've had full occupancy and he's extremely confident that if the right monies become available with private dollars they can do the same thing at the former Flickinger site. We're working hand-in-hand with him.
"Some initial steps have been done at the Flickinger but that potential project is more costly than the first one and there's no longer the RestoreNY money that he used on the first project. He's exploring other avenues and we're assisting him with that exploration."
Dolce said that might not be all - the Paradise Fencing building next to the Flickinger Building - could be part of the project. The DLDC holds the mortgage on the Paradise Building.
"It would be an ideal spot for Incubator grads," he added.
Neratko said there was a reason for the focus on the harborfront area.
"It's where the tourists go, it's where people are going to come when they come to the city of Dunkirk," he explained. "It doesn't look the greatest. It doesn't have the businesses right now that will support those industries and support the tourists."
Redoing the Coburn Block would help.
"I think if the city had a location available where we could move all of that they would be willing to hear it," he said of Rural Ministries. "Right now the city doesn't have much in terms of property available for them, so it's kind of trying to find them other locations."
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