Published September 24, 2019 by Bob Beckstead

MASSENA — The St. Lawrence Seaway received a nice birthday surprise on Wednesday during ceremonies marking its 60th anniversary — the announcement of $6 million in funding for a new visitor’s center at Eisenhower Lock.

The announcement was made by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who held up the artist’s conception of what the new facility will look like when completed.

Secretary Chao thanked a number of individuals during her appearance, including Ms. Stefanik.

“I’m going to call her to the stage toward the end because we have a special announcement to make, and you’re so going to like this announcement,” she said.

Concluding her speech, she said the St. Lawrence Seaway was “a national treasure and we need to get the word out,” and invited Ms. Stefanik to join her at the podium.

“Today we are announcing approval of $6 million for the construction of a new visitor’s center,” Secretary Chao said. “As we celebrate the 60th anniversary, the 60th birthday of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the congresswoman and I could not think of a better birthday present than to have a new visitor’s center.”

She said Ms. Stefanik had been advocating for a new visitor’s center.

“She has been talking to the U.S. Department of Transportation since 2017. She has told us what the visitor’s center can do, the economic development it can bring throughout this whole region. Thank you so much for our belief in your district and constantly, relentlessly sharing with us your vision of the benefit of this visitor’s center — of what it can do for the community and the north country,” she said.

Secretary Chao said the visitor’s center would serve the “tens of thousands of tourists and people from around the world who come to watch ships,” and would “serve as a cornerstone for tourism in the north country region of New York.”

“We’re going to continue to work with local partners to run the facility,” she said.

“All I can say is wow,” said Craig Middlebrook, deputy administrator at the St. Lawrence Seaway. “Thank you for making this tremendous birthday announcement and gift.”

Speaking following the ceremony, Ms. Stefanik said the new visitor’s center would create jobs and tourism.

“This is a huge economic driver to have a $6 million investment to the visitor’s center right here in Massena. It’s exciting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway, but it also shows how I’m able to work to deliver real significant results. This has been a priority for years in the past and to able to deliver that today is so exciting — for the jobs it’s going to create, for the tourism it’s going to attract and also for the Seaway of the future, really trying to highlight the importance of the St. Lawrence Seaway,” she said.

She said groundbreaking will be in 2020.

“I’m excited for that and look forward to having a public event when we do that,” Ms. Stefanik said.

Local officials weighed in on the importance of a new visitor’s center.

“The Eisenhower Lock is a world-class attraction that has been visited by millions of people from all over the world. Not only is it arguably the greatest engineering feat of our lifetime, the Seaway is a cornerstone of our economy, in terms of the safe transport of goods, jobs and tourism. A state-of-the-art Welcome Center at the lock will draw more visitors and that will contribute to our local economy in several ways,” Mayor Timmy J. Currier said.

“It was great to see Secretary Chao here to deliver the news in person. Her support, along with that of Senator Schumer and Congresswomen Stefanik was vital to bring this project forward. Deputy Administrator Middlebrook and his team have been working on this project for years. They persevered and through relationships and building partners, we will see the ground break on this project next year,” he said.

“I was honored to attend the 60-year celebration for the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation today. We, the townspeople of Massena have always enjoyed a great relationship for all those years with SLSDC as a local employer and use of local retail establishments, but we also appreciate all that they’ve done through transport of materials and goods to and from Canadian and United States markets,” Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy said.

“This is tremendous for Massena, not only as one of several destinations for tourists, but the Chamber of Commerce has used the present visitor center as an information outlet for all that Massena has to offer. We appreciate that we will be able to continue in the brand new venue,” he said.

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, also welcomed the news. He had visited the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation in July 2018 to advocate for the replacement of the current visitor’s center. He had also written to Secretary Chao and Mr. Middlebook, urging the approval of the replacement of the visitor’s center.

“60,000 tourists come to Massena every year to watch ships come through the spectacular St. Lawrence Seaway, and until now, were only greeted by a worn-down, outdated visitors’ center. This is why I relentlessly fought to secure federal funding needed to replace the Eisenhower Lock Visitors’ Center, both in person, when I visited the seaway last year, and in direct outreach to the Department of Transportation and St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation over the past year,” he said in a statement.

“Now, with the news of a modernized visitors’ center, the Thousand Islands and St. Lawrence River Region has 6 million reasons to be happy,” Sen. Schumer said.

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