Correction: A previous version of this story listed Village of Lancaster Mayor Lynne Ruda as a former music teacher.

DUNKIRK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Gov. Kathy Hochul came to Dunkirk Monday morning to announce that the city is getting a $10 million downtown revitalization grant.

Dunkirk is the Western New York winner of the sixth round of Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding. It follows previous winners Jamestown, Olean, Lockport, North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls (Bridge District) and Buffalo (Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood).

Before recommending Dunkirk as the nominee for this funding, the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council considered the following criteria in the proposals received by the state:

  • Downtown is compact, with well-defined boundaries;
  • Downtown can capitalize on prior, or catalyze future private and public investment;
  • Recent or impending job growth within, or close to, the downtown that can attract workers, support redevelopment and make growth sustainable;
  • Downtown is an attractive and livable community for diverse populations;
  • Municipality already embraces, or has the ability to create and implement policies that increase livability and quality of life;
  • Municipality conducted open and robust community engagement resulting in a vision for downtown revitalization and a preliminary list of projects and initiatives;
  • Municipality has the local capacity to manage the DRI process; and
  • Municipality has identified transformative projects that will be ready for near-term implementation with an infusion of DRI funds.

“I believe when it comes to Dunkirk, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Hochul said, going on to talk about more that can be done for waterfront communities.

“It’s almost like they don’t realize how cool they could actually be,” the Governor said.

According to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, Dunkirk will develop a strategic investment plan with up to $300,000 in planning funds from the multi-million grant.

“A Local Planning Committee made up of municipal representatives, community leaders and other stakeholders will lead the effort, supported by a team of private sector experts and state planners,” Hochul’s office wrote. “The Strategic Investment Plan will examine local assets and opportunities to identify economic development, transportation, housing, and community projects that align with each community’s vision for downtown revitalization and that are poised for implementation. The Strategic Investment Plan will guide the investment of DRI grant funds in revitalization projects that will advance the community’s vision for its downtown and that can leverage and expand upon the state’s $10 million investment.”

Also announced, Wellsville and Lancaster are each getting $4.5 million in NY Forward Awards. Lancaster Mayor Lynne Ruda and Wellsville Mayor Randy Shayler were in attendance for the announcement, along with Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas.

Rosas and Ruda both referred to the funding their municipalities are receiving as a “game changer.” Rosas says that in the city’s plan, there are 10 different projects, including those for the city’s marina and a plan to bring Jamestown Community College’s presence into downtown Dunkirk.

Ruda, who is also a music teacher in the area, says the village’s business district has never completely recovered since a series of fires destroyed a number of buildings in the 1960s.

“Growing up in that community, my memories are of vacant storefronts, empty streets, empty parking lots,” Ruda said. “I remember looking through the chainlink fence thinking ‘We deserve so much more than this. We have so much potential,’ but we couldn’t see the path forward.”

Ruda, praising Hochul’s attention to small communities, called her “a champion of the little guy.”

Shayler embraced his village’s size, saying “We are small-town America.” The village, which is the largest metropolitan area in Allegany County, has a population of about 4,500.

“We have a movie theater. We have a Texas hot restaurant that’s been in business for a hundred years. We have a number of things in Wellsville that say ‘We’re small and we like it,'” Shayler said.

Hochul’s full press conference can be viewed below.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.