New York State’s $14 million investment in creating a breakwater for Olcott Harbor begins to pay off as local businessman David Hedley plans first investment major private sector in the Niagara County waterfront community.
Hedley, the fourth-generation owner of Hedley Boat Co. and the private Hedley Shipyard, is working on plans to bring a two-story mixed-use development along the East Federal Pier, with first-floor shops and a boutique upstairs hotel.
Future plans also include a new seasonal take-out seafood restaurant with a sheltered pavilion near the water, offering the kind of casual counter service and informal seating common in many waterfront destinations.
The $4 million investment by Hedley and his business partner, Steve Zillig, follows the completion of the state project designed to provide shelter to the port area and prevent flooding and continued shoreline erosion that Lake Ontario communities have repeatedly suffered.
Crews piled 112,000 tons of limestone into two walls that rise 10 to 12 feet above the water and extend 400 and 500 feet from the piers to break the waves.
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“It’s only possible because the Outer Harbor project was started,” Hedley said. “It calmed down the port, so that we could develop the inner port.”
Since then, Hedley and Zillig have already spent just over $2 million installing new sheet pile walls and floating docks for their shipyard, increasing the total number of slips to 70. The new docks can also accommodate boats larger up to 60 or 70 feet. . And the Olcott Yacht Club has also planned a new clubhouse.
Now they are proposing the construction of a new 6,000 square foot building at 5829 Ontario Street for what they have dubbed the Olcott Harbor Center. The first floor will have 10-12 retail stores, with a similar number of hotel rooms upstairs. They will also offer kayak, canoe and paddle boat rentals — “all motorless,” Hedley said.
The seasonal restaurant would come later, at the far north end of the lot.
But he pointed out that plans by architect Mark D’Alba and Apex Consulting Survey & Engineering Services are all still in the planning stage, with nothing finalized. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the Niagara County Planning Board.
“There are setbacks and all kinds of rules and regulations now that you have to follow,” he said. “You have to do everything according to the book. It’s not like the good old days.”
Hedley, 59, built single-family homes for 40 years before buying the family business from his aunt and passing the construction business, Hedley Custom Construction, to his son. The Hedley Boat Yard – which is separate from the public Newfane Marina which is also in the harbor – was started by his grandfather, who came to Olcott in 1920 and built the first quays and marina.
Hedley said he hopes to start construction on the first phase – around half of the building – this year, with completion after eight months. If successful, he will kick off the second half quickly, he said.
“We’re developing a port that hasn’t been since my grandfather came here,” he said. “It is slowly developing into a nice resort area, instead of a dump. The place has been so depressed because we have a difficult port. You can’t even moor a boat here.”
That changed after the state’s Lake Ontario Resilience and Economic Development Initiative, which the state launched in October 2019 and ended last year.