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Review online chat with State Sen. George Maziarz

Check out an archive of the live chat we had today on with State Sen. George Maziarz:

New parking, traffic restrictions coming near Remington loft project

NORTH TONAWANDA -- Officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon to mark the symbolic completion of about a half-million dollar road resurfacing and streetscape project on the Erie Canal.

Following the 1 p.m. ceremony, Sweeney Street between Oliver and Marion streets was reopened to traffic in front of the Remington Lofts on the Canal project.

The Kissling Interests, headed by Anthony Kissling, is turning the former Remington Rand building at 184 Sweeney into 81 work/live loft apartments. The project also includes a restaurant, a hair salon and a yoga studio.

9:14 p.m.: The streetscape work near the lofts project will mean a change in parking and the speed limit in the area, city officials said tonight.

Public Works Superintendent Gary Franklin asked the Common Council to lower the speed limit to 20 mph on Sweeney, between Main and Oliver streets, as well as on Marion Street between Sweeney and Tremont streets.

Franklin also presented a proposed parking plan that will allow vehicles to park on Sweeney and on Marion.

Under the proposal, about 16 on-street spots would be added on Sweeney between Main and Oliver. Between 20 and 25 spots would be added on Marion.

An unpaved parking lot located next to the Dockside Inn is actually property that's owned by Kissling. That parcel is being turned into greenspace and a paved parking lot, though it hasn't been determined whether there will be public parking in the lot, said Robert Welch, aide to Mayor Robert G. Ortt.

Residents and employees of the refurbished building will park in private lots on the property.

Marion Street will remain a one-way street until renovation work on the former Remington Rand is complete, officials said.

The Council must vote to make any changes before they will go into effect.

1:32 p.m.: The first floor of the project, including some apartments as well as the restaurant, salon and studio, is scheduled to open in November, said Gregory Sehr, president of Upstate Consultants of Buffalo, which is working with Kissling on the project.

Site work began on the project on May 1. R&P Oak Hill Development of Buffalo is the construction manager.

--Aaron Besecker

Audio and images: Lockport developer's proposal for NCCC culinary institute

One of three renderings Lockport developer David L. Ulrich sent to Niagara County Community College President James P. Klyczek for a proposal to locate the proposed culinary arts institute on Canal Street in Lockport.

With no deal yet in place for a proposed hospitality and tourism center in Niagara Falls, Lockport developer David L. Ulrich has thrown a Lockport site into the ring.

Click here to read the story from this morning's paper about the Ulrich's initial pitch to Niagara Community College for the Canal Street block.

6:48 p.m.: Read Ulrich's letter to the college.

Attached to the letter were three pages of renderings. Check out a rendering of the institute, along with a rendering of a site overview and parking.

Here's the site plan rendering.

5:32 p.m.: I spoke with NCCC President James P. Klyczek about Ulrich's proposal after Wednesday's board of trustees meeting. He said the Rainbow Centre mall site in Niagara Falls remains his "preferred" choice for a location. Take a listen to some of our conversation:

I also talked with Bonnie R. Gifford, chair of the college's board of trustees, who says she was impressed by Ulrich's proposal. Here's a clip from our chat:

--Aaron Besecker

Niagara County farmer among those calling for immigration reform

Jim Bittner of Singer Farms in Appleton was one of several farmers who called for immigration reform during a meeting with federal representatives on Tuesday, according to The Batavia Daily News.

Aggressive enforcement of immigration laws, Bittner said, has turned many local farms into "war zones," the newspaper reported today.

The discussion was part of a session with Rep. Chris Lee's agriculture advisory committee.

Here's the entire Daily News' story.

--Aaron Besecker

Legal battle over NT Walmart continues

A court appearance scheduled for today in the second lawsuit aimed at halting plans to build a new Walmart Supercenter in North Tonawanda has been adjourned until Feb. 24.

The suit, filed in November, has been brought by North Tonawanda First, an anti-Walmart citizens group.

Here's my story from when the newest lawsuit was initially filed.

Click here to read a story about State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello's June ruling in the first lawsuit, also brought by NT First.

As a result of the first suit, the city had to again review storm water control plans for the site.

While I was flipping through the TV channels last night, I came across a report CNBC has been re-airing called "The New Age of Walmart."

Segments of the report are available at the CNBC Web site, including segments on labor issues and an interview with Walmart's chief executive officer.

-- Aaron Besecker

--Aaron Besecker

Niagara and Utah: kindred spirits?

Nobody wants to live near a dump, especially when the dump is created with waste brought in from somewhere else.

That argument -- long utilized by some in Niagara County in the fight against the expansion of CWM Chemical Services' hazardous waste landfill in Lewiston and Porter -- is echoed in the fight to bring nuclear waste from outside the United States into Utah.

The Deseret News (Salt Lake City) published a story last week about a House panel's move to block a proposal to bring 20,000 tons of nuclear waste from Italy, dumping leftovers in a Utah desert.

Here's The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial on the issue.

--Aaron Besecker

Playing politics with NT Walmart

Allegations that prominent Niagara County Republicans sought to delay a proposed Walmart project came to light Tuesday night, and are detailed in a story here.

Click on the story link to find snippets of audio recorded during the Common Council meeting. You can listen to Dennis J. Barberio, council candidate, Aldermen Brett M. Sommer and Kevin J. Brick Jr., along with Mayor Lawrence V. Soos, address the issue in their own words.

--Aaron Besecker

Chatter on low-cost power

I wrote a story published today about a hearing on the state's discount electricity programs held in Niagara Falls.

Some audio clips from the session -- including portions of comments by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster and the Citizens Budget Commission's Elizabeth Lynam -- are available under the "related content" section near the top of the story.

--Aaron Besecker

What should happen with The Summit mall?

   The owners of The Summit mall in Wheatfield tried several strategies to keep the struggling Williams Road retail hub open in recent years, but in the end none of them have worked.

   The North Carolina-based limited liability company that owns the mall, Oberlin Plaza One, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the mall property will be put up for sale as part of the proceedings.

   Inside tenants will have 60 days to move out. The owners will work with tenants who want to remain open on site and move to a location accessible from the outside of the building, James Anthony, leader of the company that bought the mall in 2002, told News Niagara Reporter Denise Jewell Gee for a story in today's Niagara Weekend.

   Anthony said said Sears, The Bon-Ton, Save-A-Lot, M&T Bank, Bank of America and Summit Pediatrics will remain open for business.

   Meanwhile, town and county leaders said they will work with other tenants to help them relocate in Niagara County and to try to help find a new use for the mall property.

   "It is now and will continue to be retail in part," Anthony said. "But it is simply too big and costly to be a pure retail center. It needs to have offices and services in it."

   Can The Summit survive? If so, in what form?

-- News Niagara Editor Scott Scanlon

Success has eluded The Summit mall

   Questions about the financial health of The Summit mall, which officials said Tuesday would close June 6, surfaced on numerous occasions for at least the past decade.

   Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland divested itself of the property after Jenss, one of the mall's three original anchor stores, announced it was moving out in 1998.

   Forest City then sold its $33 million mortgage to Connecticut General Life Insurance, whose investment division said its goal was to sell the property.

   In December 1999, the mall's property assessment dropped to $13.5 million.

   In 2000, Haywood Whichard, a North Carolina real estate investor bought the mall for $3.3 million.

   Tom Dombrowski, a businessman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., gained ownership of the mall in 2001.

   After a situation Dombrowski described as getting "caught in the middle" of complicated legal wrangling, Jim Anthony, and Oberlin Plaza One, took over the mortgage from Dombrowski in June 2002.

   In 2003, a group of local investors -- including construction company owner Samuel J. Savarino, Toronto businessman Howard Hurst and Paula K. Sterben -- were said to be interested in purchasing the mall. At the time, the facility was about 70 percent vacant, and was expected to sell for less than $5 million, excluding back taxes.

   That transaction was never finalized.

   In January 2005, Anthony told The Buffalo News his company had paid $800,000 in back taxes since June 2004.

   In December 2005, the county IDA granted current mall ownership $2 million in tax breaks. The company was granted the relief despite the agency's policy of not granting financial concessions to retail establishments.

   At the time, the deal called for full relief from mortgage, property and sales tax for the first five years of a planned $15 million renovation. Mall owners at the time said The Summit would be come a year-round tourist attraction with the addition of a Christmas Wonderland, a fantasy attraction.

   Christmas Wonderland opened in November 2005, and closed more than three years ago.

   Considering the troubles several owners have faced in the recent past, is there a winning formula that could bring The Summit success?

   - Aaron Besecker

Read the full story.

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