Monday, February 20, 2017

A Conversation with Grand Island Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray

A week and a half ago, I interviewed Nathan McMurray, the town supervisor of Grand Island, New York, for an article that I wrote for the Island Dispatch about a Western New York Welcome Center that will be built near the Whitehaven exit of the I-190. Due to space limitations, I couldn't put everything into the article from the interview. I asked Nate if I could also share our conversation here, and he was happy to say yes.

How did Grand Island get chosen to be the home town for Western New York's Welcome Center?

We heard rumbling that the governor had put a Welcome Center in Long Island. We reached out to the Governor Andrew Cuomo's office. We asked the governor's office to talk with us, and we said that we really want to have the Western New York Welcome Center on Grand Island. Then we brought in Eric Fieblekorn, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. He was super supportive, and he helped make the case. 

The governor loved it and was so happy and he wanted to do it on Grand Island. I didn’t know that it would go forward so soon. We heard that there would be a green light for the project. When the governor came to UB (the State University of New York at Buffalo) to make a speech, he had pictures of it. We thought  that it would take five years, but Governor Cuomo said that it would happen in 2018. Now we’ve had subsequent discussion with his team, and they are well on their way of developing this thing.
What will be in a Welcome Center?
There will be a market with local products, artifacts, and items celebrating Western New York and Grand Island. There will also be interactive digital displays and kiosks directly connection people to local attractions. Outside, there will be a playground. There will be no gas station and no fast food chains. This is high end. 

Who would visit the welcome center?
Visitors to Western New York. Sixty thousand cars pass this island every day. Millions of people go to Niagara Falls every year. They are not driving down Grand Island Boulevard. They are going over the bridges. This center could get people to get off the road. There could be connections with the West River Connection trail. I would want people to be able to walk and bike to this center. It is a welcome center. Western New York is a welcoming area. This is a tourist destination.

How will this help Grand Island community?
First of all, no one knows our story. People need to know our story. There have two types of businesses that have visited me: apartment complexes and tourism activities. We need to celebrate something that is a natural fit. One is low-impact tourism. Or make Grand Island a dumping ground.  We are turning to a green, family-friendly, eco- friendly, recreation-friendly future for Grand Island. 

How much money will this project cost?
This will be a five to 10 million dollar operation, not including any roadwork. This is a big deal. It is going to be gorgeous.

Is there a concept or a theme to this Welcome Center?

It is the Taste of New York Welcome Center. It may change because the state is cooperating with the Greenway Commission, who would like to have a piece of the title. This will be a building of stature. We are the host community for the visitors center for five counties.
This is going to be virtual museum, with artifacts from historical moments in Grand Island and Western New York history.

The state is working with a team of historians on Western New York history. They will research Grand Island history. They will put as much as possible in this thing. The design is based on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

You mentioned that you had visited the Welcome Center in Long Island. What were your impressions? 

It has a digital map and  selfie wall. There is a touch map for things to see and to visit. There's a huge digital screen with images of Long Island. They have an I love NY shop, where they sell local farming products, like honey. Playground is decorated around a whale theme. 

What will our theme be and what will the welcome center look like?

Our theme may be buffaloes. The centers will be built around a theme that represents the local community. You will have outdoor seating, warm and friendly environment.  We will have a walk of fame, honoring outstanding Western New Yorkers, such as Tim Russert and Lucille Ball. The state is looking for a theme. The state is in a listening mode, as they reach out to the other four counties (Niagara, Genesee, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua). Erie County is fully invested. 

Are there any problem areas associated with the project?

We are loooking at the off and on ramps of the Whitehaven exit. They are not good. 

Another is the "Route 66 law," that prohibits the states from commercializing the right-of-way along the interstate system." (The highways) killed the local little shops and vendors. To encourage people to get of the road, the law was enacted. The law has been ignored because people wouldn’t get off the road anyway. 

Long Island's center is more a museum than anything that would compete with local commerce. This is directly connected to local attractions, not in a way that manipulates and feels cheap. This center will not hurt local economies; it will direct people toward local economies.

What sort of future do you envision as a result of this project?

We are excited to become host of this Welcome Center. It is enormous for us as well as for the region. 

The West River Parkway will become a multi-use trail.  We are working with the City of Tonawanda to put in a ferry service for bikers and walkers. It will have a path that would connect East River to West River via Whitehaven Road, that would possibly tie in with the Welcome Center. We are trying to bring eco tourism to Grand Island. We are looking at the bike path as part of a bigger picture that will unfold. This is giving us other opportunities.  This center will be the gateway to a host of great activities in the community of Grand Island.

Do you have anything that you would like to add?

I am excited. Buffalo is starting to turn the corner. People are now proud of being from here. Opportunities to tell our story will increase that pride. We need to be able to say that this is the best place in the world to be from. 

Grand Island, this will be a building that will immediately have a positive impact on your property values, the image of the island , and on our reputation. It is glorious. People who are working on this are cultured people who have a deep sophisticated understand of architecture and design and history.

It will celebrate all of the Western New York region. It will be another outlet for the farmers market. The center in Long Island is great. They have local cheese, meats, local everything. They sell local Shoes and wine.  Local wine would be fun.

I can’t emphasize enough how beautiful these centers are. If the town had to build it, it would ruin our budget. Our island becomes the ambassador for our region.

1 comment:

Alana said...

If this welcome center comes in 2018, my husband and I will be most happy to pay it a visit. One thing I do need to give your area a heads up about is the Route 66 law. There is a lovely welcome center just north of the NY/PA border on I-81, about 20 minutes from where I live. There is a lovely Taste New York shop there. Well, guess what. The Route 66 law is being enforced now (this was announced just a week or two ago), and they will have to (as I understand it) downsize the shop and make it automated pay. I agree with the concept of the "Rt 66" law; there has to be some good way to compromise on this. Local businesses are not selling Saratoga chips or Ithaca made cold cuts! I completely agree with your town supervisor saying, of your center " This center will not hurt local economies; it will direct people toward local economies."