New York State’s $14 million investment into creating a breakwall for Olcott Harbor is starting to pay off, as local businessman David Hedley is planning the first major private investment in the Niagara County waterfront community.
Hedley, the fourth-generation owner of Hedley Boat Co. and the privately owned Hedley Boat Yard, is working on plans to bring a two-story mixed-use project along the east federal pier, with shops on the first floor and a boutique hotel upstairs.
Future plans also include a new seasonal takeout seafood restaurant with a sheltered pavilion close to the water, offering the kind of casual counter service and informal seating common in many waterfront destinations.
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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 harbor area and prevent the continual flooding and shore erosion that the 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 up waves.
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“This is only possible because the Outer Harbor project went in,” Hedley said. “It calmed the harbor down, so that we could develop the Inner Harbor.”
Since then, Hedley and Zillig have already spent just over $2 million to install new sheet pile walls and floating docks for their boat yard, increasing the total slip count to 70. The newer docks can also handle larger boats of up to 60 or 70 feet. And the Olcott Yacht Club also planned a new clubhouse.
Now they are proposing construction of a new 6,000-square-foot building at 5829 Ontario St., for what they have dubbed the Olcott Harbor Center. The first floor will have 10 to 12 retail shops, with a similar number of hotel rooms upstairs. They’ll also offer kayak, canoe and paddleboat rentals – “everything without a motor,” Hedley said.
The seasonal restaurant would come later, on the farthest northern part of the land.
“We’re not going to do a big sit-down, fancy restaurant, like Sunset Bar and Grill in Wilson.”
But he stressed that the plans by architect Mark D’Alba and Apex Consulting Survey & Engineering Services are all still in the planning stages, with nothing finalized. The proposal is being reviewed by the Niagara County Planning Board.
“There’s setbacks and all kinds of rules and regulations now that you’ve got to follow,” he said. “You’ve got to do everything by the book. It’s not like the old days.”
Hedley, 59, was a single-family homebuilder for 40 years before he bought the family business from his aunt, and turned over the construction firm, Hedley Custom Construction, to his son. The Hedley Boat Yard – which is separate from the public Newfane Marina that’s also in the harbor – was started by his grandfather, who came to Olcott in 1920 and built the first docks and marina.
Hedley said he hopes to start construction on the first phase – about half of the building – this year, with completion after eight months. If successful, he’ll quickly launch the second half, he said.
“We’re developing a harbor that has never been here since my grandfather came here,” he said. “It’s slowly developing into a nice resort area, instead of a dump. The place has been so depressed because we have a rough harbor. You couldn’t even dock a boat here.”
That changed after the state’s Lake Ontario Resilience and Economic Development Initiative, which the state launched in October 2019, and finished last year.