State Park parking lot.
Instead of State Parks, we should call it the New York State Office of "Stealth Parks".
Unlike his predecessor, retired Buffalo Bill Ed Rutkowski, State Parks Western Region director Mark Thomas is a crafty one. A seasoned politician who, in a previous life, served as Chautauqua County Executive and ran for Congress three times, he knows exactly how information flows can be managed to maximize media exposure and public attention when the Albany big shots come to town to cut a ribbon in Niagara Falls State Park. Alternatively, he slips it through under the radar when it's likely to produce criticism and controversy.
Until recently, the last meeting held by State Parks, at which the general public had the opportunity to make official comments regarding activities in the Niagara Falls State Park, was way back on February 18, 1999. Its purpose was to receive public comments on the environmental impact statement for the Observation Tower.
More than fourteen years went by (you're reading that correctly, fourteen years) before State Parks held another meeting where local citizens could comment for the public record regarding something taking place in the Niagara Falls State Park. The occasion was August 13, 2013 at City Hall, and the arcane topic was what to do about the decaying Olmsted-style bridges in the park.
Just to be on the safe side, Thomas scheduled that meeting for dinner hour on a Tuesday, when the majority of us were at ballgames or cook-outs, an Artpark concert or possibly on family vacation. In addition, there was no prior announcement of the time and location, and the strategy worked because only one lone person showed up to offer comments.
There's good reason for Thomas' reticence, and thanks to the miracle of the modern internet, you can witness first-hand what it is. The video "Niagara Falls Uproar" on Youtube, which we never tire of bringing to the reader's attention, shows a flustered Mark Thomas being shouted down by irate citizens at a Gov. Paterson town hall-style meeting over remarks he was making trying to justify Albany's stranglehold on the parking, dining, sightseeing and souvenir store concessions in the Niagara Falls State Park.
Eight million tourists visit Niagara Falls State Park every year, without need or reason to set foot or spend a dime in Niagara Falls, a city that suffers from one of the highest rates of crime and per capita poverty in the entire northeastern United States.
Besides the meltdown at the Paterson event, there was also the near riot at the South Robert Moses Parkway scoping hearing of April 27, 2009, held at the Niagara Falls Conference Center.
Assorted State Parks officials and representatives of consultant firm Hatch Mott McDonald milled around, grinning stupidly at the interested citizens taking in displays featuring large posters of a newly rebuilt south Moses Parkway sprawling along the waterfront, cutting the city off and serving as a driveway into the Niagara Falls State Park.
Over the succeeding hour during the public comment session, all Mark Thomas could do was stare at his shoes, while the blood drained from the faces of the Hatch Mott people, looking like they were about to faint.
"The whole world seems to understand the uniqueness of this area except for the state of New York and State Parks," yelled Lisa Vitello, representing the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board.
"This is supposed to be a vibrant city and it was once a vibrant city," Ruth Knepp, a resident of Niagara Falls for 56 years, scolded. "It's a disgrace what you've done."
"State Parks refuses to acknowledge the community's plea of removing the parkway. You are not listening to us. You do what benefits Albany, you do what benefits downstate and you do what benefits your corporate masters," berated another angry individual.
In case you missed it, and you probably did since, like the Olmsted bridge hearing, there was no mention of it in either the Niagara Gazette or the Buffalo News, the Final Design Report/Environmental Assessment for the Robert Moses Parkway South Segment - "Riverway" was released two months ago, on January 29, 2014.
For more background and an analysis of the South Moses Parkway project, and how badly damaging it is to the city and its future, see the article in this week's edition entitled "New One-Way Robert Moses South Parkway Plan Directs Motorists to State Park, Avoiding City and its Businesses."
Deaf to the demands of the public, oblivious to the overwhelming desire to determine for ourselves the destiny of our waterfront as expressed at the 2009 hearing, State Parks has finalized the plan to replace the south parkway with an upgraded road that cuts off the city from the Niagara River, conveys tourist traffic directly from the Grand Island Bridge into the State Park, and completely bypasses the downtown and businesses of the city of Niagara Falls.