It's the state versus the city.
In the middle of yet another Niagara Falls controversy lies the Hard Rock Cafe, which recently installed a digital electronic sign estimated to cost $100,000.
The New York State Parks Department is claiming the sign violates a state law that prohibits such signage within 500 feet of a state park, even if the sign is on city property.
The sign in question clearly violates the law as written. For now, however, the Hard Rock's sign remains lit, despite the flak from the state.
"The law needs to be abolished," Council Chairman Sam Fruscione said. "The law is no good for business."
The City Council was expected to pass a resolution Monday, March 19, which aims to allow "the installation of signs by businesses on the exterior of their establishments identifying their location in the city of Niagara Falls" and also calls on the Parks Department to "rescind any order it has recently given" to the Hard Rock regarding removal of the sign.
On Feb. 13, State Parks Regional Director Mark Thomas wrote to the company that installed the sign, "This sign is not consistent with the historic and aesthetic character of our Park, which provides visitors with an opportunity to experience a natural wonder without the intrusion and interference from the surrounding urban environment."
"This is a good example where a lack of understanding on the part of State Parks results in unnecessary restrictions as we work to grow our downtown businesses," Fruscione said. "Assemblyman John Ceretto has graciously offered to help and is working at the state level to address this problem. I'm confident that this proposed resolution, along with (Ceretto's) help, will result in the sign finally being put to work for the benefit of their customers and our visitors.
"So often it's the small things that become big things in our city, and that's unfortunate. However, I have confidence that the City Council and Assemblyman Ceretto can solve this situation, and we can all return to more pressing issues."
The city resolution requests that the Parks Department "not commence any enforcement activity based upon a state law that was enacted some 50 years ago."
Fruscione called the original state law "antiquated."
"It's the year 2012. What good has that law done us?" Fruscione asked.
He also has some other questions.
"Mark Thomas has made reference to how he has to protect our visitors from having the urban environment intruding on the park's natural setting. I wonder why he has no problem with all the parking on Goat Island or the willy-nilly signage and banners that blanket the park? Additionally, I have to ask why State Parks fails to find the large duty-free liquor sign offensive. And I'm puzzled as to why State Parks signed off on a 30-foot-tall pirate sign that was proposed two years ago, but never installed, at one of our downtown museums," Fruscione said.
"I've written to Mr. Thomas respectfully asking him to take greater interest in our overgrown gorge rim and I've asked him to better maintain the overall condition of the Reservation and Parkway. I don't understand why the State Park is nit-picking this sign while ignoring day-to-day park maintenance."
Ceretto confirmed that he is "working on the state level to partner with (Fruscione) and the Council and I hope to see progress soon."
Ceretto is also talking to other Council members.
"I'm working closely with the Council and support Council members Fruscione, Glenn Choolokian and Bob Anderson in their efforts here," Ceretto said. "The city of Niagara Falls should make these decisions, not State Parks, and I've pledged to the Council to work with them to find a solution that puts Niagara Falls first."
"Our Council chairman has written two letters to Mark Thomas in an attempt to clear the way for this sign to officially be turned on. But the letters have fallen on deaf ears, and it's more than disappointing, it shows a complete lack of priorities on the part of the State Park," Choolokian said.
The city and the Hard Rock Cafe have partnered for the past several summers to produce a series of live music concerts held on Old Falls Street. The concerts have been well attended, and in a few short years have proven to be a welcome live music series in the city's downtown.
Jerry Genova, chairman of the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board, said, "The Hard Rock is a city partner and a large part of our tourism industry. They've invested in our downtown and they've invested in the city. I think we have to resolve this issue, not just for them, but in the overall best interest of our downtown businesses."
Mayor Paul A. Dyster hasn't taken a firm position on the signage issue. He was recently quoted in the Buffalo News, saying, "None of us wants to see the edges of our State Park lined with billboards."
But the mayor added, "I think what we're looking at is a question of whether you can strike a balance."
Anderson is much more clear on his position: "Here we are poised to host the world media for the historic Nik Wallenda wire-walk, and State Park officials are spending time and money to frustrate our downtown businesses. The City Council has no choice but to step up and address this problem."
Anderson understands that at one point the ordinances regarding signage in Niagara Falls might have made more sense.
"The bottom line is, I've always followed the law. I've always enforced the law. But laws sometimes need to be changed. Let's move forward," he said.
E-mail your comments to City Editor Ron Churchill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 20 2012|