OSWEGO — Revamping the international pier, improving Wright’s Landing Marina and constructing a seasonal restaurant near the waterfront are among the items Port City officials are seeking to fund through a state program aimed at hardening Lake Ontario shorelines and boosting local economies.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI) in late May as the Great Lake’s water level was approaching an all-time high. State officials, who have called the flooding in two of the last three years “a new normal,” announced in early June the program would provide $300 million in funding available to lakeshore communities.

Through the REDI funding, the city of Oswego is asking for nearly $15 million for several projects that blend economic development with improved shoreline protections. City officials were guided in large part by a waterfront master plan established in 2016 and 2017 with public input. 

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow previously called Cuomo’s REDI announcement “the right approach,” noting it provides another great opportunity for the city of Oswego. Following Cuomo’s announcement, the mayor said the city’s main priority would be to repair the international pier and continue developing Wright’s Landing Marina.

“It strikes the balance for what the governor is looking for,” the mayor said of the city’s REDI application. “We’re not asking for strictly infrastructure improvements and we’re not asking for strictly economic development.”

Barlow and the city’s economic development team finalized and submitted a REDI application Friday that focuses on those areas. Barlow said the city’s submission prioritizes the International Pier and Wright’s Landing, striking “the balance between repairing the damage that was done the last three years and using our waterfront as the economic tool that it can be moving forward.”

“We already have some nice projects underway, but with this additional funding we can take the marina to the next level, offering a more interactive and engaging experience to more than just boaters,” Barlow said, noting the city “divided it up into three different projects and by priority.”

Oswego Director of Community and Economic Development Justin Rudgick said — similar to the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) awarded to the city in 2016 — the REDI program provides an opportunity for the city to build on previous momentum. He said the program could help officials “transform the waterfront sooner rather than later” and benefit the local and regional economy. 

“The overall story of repurposing and revitalizing our waterfront is not only to benefit the city of Oswego in terms of improving quality of life, but it’s also the regional and global destination of Lake Ontario,” Rudgick said.  

Rudgick said improving the Oswego waterfront could provide an access point for Canadian or other visitors to the central New York region.

“So it’s a regional project even though it’s right here in the city of Oswego,” Rudgick said, noting the city is one of few waterfront communities in the region. “That’s why we feel the investment of $13 to $14 million toward our projects will pay dividends for the entire region and for the state.”

The city’s top priority is “transforming the International Pier,” which currently houses the Oswego Yacht Club, turning it into what Barlow called “a boardwalk atmosphere.” Barlow said the pier is essentially a gravel road with vehicle-access, and there is a misconception that it’s a private facility.

“The yacht club is a private club, but the pier is not private,” Barlow said. “It’s open to the public and it’s also a totally underutilized piece of property. In most communities that have a pier it’s the most coveted piece of property and ours isn’t even paved.”

Barlow said the city’s plans call for the pier to be pedestrian-only with the exception of access for emergency vehicles or deliveries, and include a walkway with landscaping out and an open area at the end of the pier that could house a pavilion, stage or elevated lookout.

Perhaps the most expensive part of the project is the installation of sheet piling that will act as a retaining wall around the pier and protect it from future high water, which in recent years has compromised the integrity of the structure.

Lake Ontario waters reached a record-high 249.08 feet on June 6 — the highest point in more than 100 years of record keeping — surpassing the 248.95 feet record set in 2017. The water level has dropped more than 8.5 inches since last reaching the record high in mid-June, but remains almost 30 inches above average for early August.

If funded, the pier project would also move the current docks on the east side of the International Pier to the west side of the pier. That move would protect the docks from wave action while allowing for recreational vessels, including larger ones, to easily park on the east side.

Rudgick said the total cost for the revamped International Pier would be around $8.7 million, and also include the installation of a boardwalk along the west side of the pier.

Second on the city’s list of priorities are improvements to Wright’s Landing Marina. Upgrades would include a small boardwalk along the western end, elevating several areas, enhancing the pavilion, and installing an additional fire pit on the west side of the marina.

Officials also want to fill in the kayak and paddleboat launch and create a seawall in the area to curb future flooding.

“We’re raising a couple areas of the marina about three feet so it’s not as vulnerable to flooding in the future, and we’re looking at trying to build a restaurant for someone to lease out down at the marina,” Barlow said of the city’s REDI plans.

The total cost of marina upgrades included in the city’s plans are $5.35 million, and Barlow said asking for funding to construct a seasonal restaurant and bar in the hill bordering the southern boundary of the marina satisfies the economic development aspect of the REDI program.

“We’ve had people express interest in building out on the pier, but what we want to do is target more of the boaters who are in the marina and still draw people from land,” the mayor said.

Rudgick said the location inside the marina is more desirable than the pier, as the establishment could be open for six to eight months rather than four or five months.

The third portion of the city’s REDI application includes repairing and replacing docks at the marina that have been deteriorating in recent years due to high water and wave action, as well as adding another dock in the northwest section of the marina.

Some of the roughly $900,000 in state funding awarded in December for Wright’s Landing Marina improvements is being moved to cover upgrades at Breitbeck Park. About $350,000, which was initially for revamping the Wright’s Landing pavilion and installing fire pits, will be shifted to Breitbeck to fund a pavilion and fire pits at that location instead.

Barlow said, however, the REDI application, if funded, would cover the Wright’s Landing pavilion and fire pit installation at the marina. The city is expecting delivery of a boater welcome center, which was included in the December award, in the near future and the installation of lighting later this month.

Officials plan to ask members of the common council to commit the $2.5 million in funding, which Rudgick said is important “to show that we’re ready to take the next step.”

The state has not indicated a firm timeline for the REDI program and when awards might be announced. City officials are optimistic the process would move faster than other state grant programs and work on projects receiving funding could start as early as next year.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul told The Palladium-Times earlier this week the state is seeking to move the process along as quickly as possible. She noted the state would like to see projects start next year due to the urgent need to protect against high water, but couldn’t pinpoint an exact timeline.

Another project the city is submitting, but officials cautioned would be a long shot to be funded, was to improve the drainage along Hillside Avenue, known as the Gardenier Storm Sewer, which experience significantly flooding earlier this year.

“Part of the problem is the storm water system in that area outflows to the lake, and when the water is up it can’t discharge the way it normally can,” Barlow said. “We either need to raise the outflow for that area or divert it to another area where the lake is not as high or the shoreline is different.”

Barlow said the city would submit the concept, but noted it wasn’t the top priority and officials did not have time to finalize a detailed proposal with cost estimates.

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