The Village of Lewiston has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of Greenway funding in distinctive bronze sculptures gracing both its downtown and waterfront, one depicting the Tuscarora heroes and the other, the ferrying of slaves across the Niagara River, while the city of Niagara Falls spends its Greenway money on picnic benches, landscaping and trash receptacles in little-used municipal parks.
The closest thing to a public work of art that's been dedicated around here in recent memory are two boulder-mounted plaques in the Niagara Falls State Park: one in honor of local historian Paul Gromosiak and the other to Nik Wallenda. And since neither are in the actual city, and the Wallenda monument was recently demolished, either at the hands of vandals or State Parks itself (sometimes it's hard to tell the difference), they don't really count.
The city of Niagara Falls had an excellent opportunity to obtain a world-class work of art and install it in a place of honor downtown, where it would have served as a symbol of our proud industrial past, boosting cultural heritage tourism, increasing civic pride and attaining landmark status in a city sorely lacking landmarks, having an ill-defined connection to, and missing out on most of the financial benefits of, state-owned waterfront attractions like the Falls and Niagara Gorge.
Unfortunately, for reasons that we will examine, Mayor Paul Dyster acted behind the scenes to slam the door on an opportunity to obtain a signature outdoor sculpture for downtown Niagara Falls that would have been an incredible asset for the city and future generations.
This fall the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will remove the iconic statue of Nikola Tesla from its pedestal and, according to a recent letter from Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, perform $10,000 worth of restoration on the renowned piece to repair damage sustained from decades of tourists who have climbed all over it for photo ops, as if the valuable and historic sculpture was meant to be playground equipment. It is to be reinstalled, sans pedestal, at Stedman's Bluff near the brink of the Falls, where tourists can climb on it all over again, causing the same damage and effectively wasting the ten grand State Parks is spending to "restore" it.
Then, with knowledge gained from practicing on the Wallenda monument, the vandals, er, State Parks will wield sledges, air hammers and possibly dynamite to destroy the black marble pedestal under Tesla. Dedicated in 1976, it was precisely proportioned to complement the sculpture, and commemorates the genius, visionary and inventor who contributed so much to humanity based on his work right here in Niagara Falls, in timeless and dignified engraving.
After learning of State Parks' plans to move the Tesla sculpture to make more room for expanded Delaware North food concessions at Prospect Point in Niagara Falls State Park, an ad hoc, grassroots community group petitioned them to consider gifting the statue to the city. The group obtained unanimous resolutions from the Niagara Falls City Council, the Niagara County Legislature and the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area board making the case that, since Tesla's astounding and revolutionary accomplishments took place in the city and not the park, the rightful place for his memorial is in the city. The proposal was bolstered by headlines and editorials in the local dailies, and State Parks in fact stated that they were willing to "discuss" turning over the Tesla sculpture to the city.
It all came crashing down based on email messages passed to us this spring from Parks spokeswoman Angela Berti, culminating in the letter from Commissioner Harvey: Forget about it, the Tesla sculpture stays in the park.
Why the sudden turnabout on the part of State Parks? How could the state agency be so emboldened as to deny the Niagara Falls City Council and the County Legislature, together the voice of local citizens, their reasonable and just request?
It so happens that moments after the city council passed its resolution, Mayor Dyster walked past the Tesla group, sneering, "Great! We'll put it in your backyard!" (Previously, the mayor had to be asked three times before he agreed to formally request the sculpture from State Parks if the resolution passed).
Perhaps he was reluctant to ask State Parks for anything in the aftermath of the Parks Police barracks controversy. In that case, State Parks began construction of a new facility on the Niagara Gorge rim, failing to coordinate with the mayor because, "Hey, from parkways to landscape improvements, he's been a rubber stamp for everything else we've done."
The real reason, however, probably lies in the fact that the Dyster administration has earmarked $455,000 to commission a public work of art for display in the city, bankrolled by Greenway ($355,000), the city ($50,000) and USA Niagara ($50,000). Why accept a free work of art when you've a half million dollars to play with, to be funneled to some as yet unidentified interest?
One art expert we consulted estimates the value of the Tesla sculpture, conservatively, at $400,000. So this particular unwillingness and/or failure of Mayor Dyster to finesse an agreement with State Parks to obtain it, preferring to fund a new project entirely, will have a net negative impact of approximately $855,000.