By James Hufnagel
It started with $25 million in Greenway funding to implement the 2012 Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements plan.
“(Six) areas will be restored under the $25 million revitalization initiative, including Luna Island, Three Sisters Islands, Stedman’s Bluff, Terrapin Point, Prospect Point, and the Cave of the Winds Pedestrian Plaza… In addition, (New York) State Parks is advancing other rehabilitation work at Niagara Falls under the $25 million initiative, including way-finding and signage improvements, rehabilitation of park roadways, walking paths, and infrastructure, and designing the replacement of the American Falls Bridge,” detailed the introduction to the plan.
Then, in March, 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his “NY Parks 2020” plan, announcing “a multi-year, $50 million commitment to revitalize Niagara Falls State Park… Transforming popular but highly-worn areas, with new pedestrian walkways, overlook improvements, enhanced landscaping as well as new benches, light posts, and railings. Developing new recreational and educational services to engage the park’s 8 million annual visitors.”
Notably, in the space of three short years, Cuomo and his State Parks agency doubled the amount to be spent “improving” Niagara Falls State Park, from $25 million to $50 million.
Both the 2012 and the 2015 documents, however, pretty much describe the same mundane infrastructure projects. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything having been left out of the original Landscape Improvements plan, which specifies where every new park bench, streetlamp, parking space, sign, fence, curb, stair, pavement stone, bicycle rack and even trash receptacle should go in the Niagara Falls State Park, including what they should be made of and how they should look, that would subsequently need consideration in the NY Parks 2020 plan.
So what does Gov. Cuomo intend to spend the additional $25 million on?
It was a mystery, at least until January, 2017 when Cuomo, during his “State of the State” speech at the University of Buffalo, revealed that “On Goat Island we will create a year-round destination for tourism and build a world-class lodge with sweeping views of the Niagara River.”
The $25 additional million sure would go a long way towards building a “world-class lodge” on Goat Island, wouldn’t it?
Actually, NY Parks 2020 tacked on “new recreational and educational services” which don’t appear in the earlier plan. “By 2020, NY Parks will leverage private philanthropy and other public dollars to yield a $900 million investment in State Parks… (leveraging) investments in social, athletic, hospitality and cultural facilities, such as restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and visitor centers,” it states.
While Delaware North, the Buffalo-based multinational hotel/resort/casino conglomerate that presently operates a restaurant, a snack bar and food booths in Niagara Falls State Park, isn’t exactly a “private philanthropy,” it’s a likely scenario that they would front some of the money to build a “bed and breakfast” on Goat Island.
That’s because there are precedents elsewhere in the park. Maid of the Mist, which contributed millions to both the construction of the Prospect Point Observation Tower and a new Winter Quarters drydock, is reaping revenues and profits in return many times greater than what they originally “invested” in that otherwise unnecessary park infrastructure which, for the most part, exists predominantly to support their private business interests in the Niagara Falls State Park and Niagara Gorge.