Lockport gets in shape

Brock A. Stein | 2/22/2017, noon
Not much was happening when Lockport Mayor Steve Streit took office in 2013. Housing starts, he said, were anemic. Infrastructure ...

Not much was happening when Lockport Mayor Steve Streit took office in 2013.

Housing starts, he said, were anemic. Infrastructure planning was non-existent. And the downtown had been, in his words, “written off.” One prominent local businessman told him to not even bother trying to fix the city’s historic downtown.

“Lockport was out of shape,” Streit said comparing the city to someone who hasn’t had a regular workout routine in some time. The mayor made his remarks before a noon-time audience gathered for his state of the city address on Tuesday.

Like people trying to get themselves back in to shape, Streit said that many hoped for a “magic pill” that would circumvent the hard work and dedication required to get healthy again.

The city’s turnaround over the last four years however hasn’t relied on a magic pill but instead has been the “result of a lot of hard work” and “community collaboration.”

Over the past two years the city has invested over $26 million in to water, sewer and road projects and has begun to make “systematic decisions” based on analysis from engineers on where to focus capital improvement dollars rather than the piecemeal approach used previously, according to Streit.

The city also took a proactive approach to investing in its downtown, purchasing the burned out shell of the Volz Building and eventually selling it to an investor for $10. That investor in turn invested just over $1.6 million to turn the building in to a retail site that includes Ember’s Tap House and has encouraged more investment in the downtown. The city will see the construction of the first new building in decades on the site of the former Pete’s Hot Dogs restaurant. Streit said that the new owner will be constructing a new three-unit building that will house a Dunkin’ Donuts.

“This would not be happening if the Volz building was still a burned out shell,” said Streit.

“There’s no way anybody would be investing in our downtown if we weren’t investing in our town.”

The city’s finances have been buoyed by the growth in retail, commercial and housing with a 'AA' bond rating and has attracted such big name companies as UPS, Chiquita Banana, DFS, PressSense, and RJW. Other big employers who the mayor calls “makers” are also setting up shop in Lockport including Julian Electric, Magenta Plastics and Prologis who he credited with compromising with residents concerned about the proximity of a new commercial site so close to existing residential.

Streit said that a plan to build a new Ducerne Oil pipeline filling station in town will also help fund a new $2.5 million railroad quiet zone in the downtown that will improve quality of life for those who live and work there.

The city also is seeing returns on its investment in road improvements near the new Hell’s Gate Haunt. The city received $1 per ticket sold to cover the cost of the road resurfacing and it paid off with a $28,000 cash infusion through the first 16 days of ticket sales.

The city is also preparing for a major overhaul by IDOT of State Street between 8th and 10th that will begin in 2018. The work will include widening and the addition of turn lanes.

Streit also noted that the re-opening of the State Museum campus in Lockport following a deal worked out with the state to keep the site open. Streit credited the open dialogue with the state and a willingness to find a compromise solution.

“Government can work together,” said the mayor.