|Knock and the door shall be answered, if you’re Jimmy Glynn. Witness before and after the tailoring of the Observation Tower to suit Glynn’s business model and enhance his bottom line.
You'll just have to accept some events as being coincidences in order to believe James Glynn and various New York State officials have not for years secretly worked for the enrichment of the Glynn family interests, which includes the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co.
For example, a few years back, while Glynn sat on its advisory board, USA Niagara funded a $7.9 million plan to renovate the West Mall section of Old Falls Street, a 420-foot section of road frontage along the north border of the Glynn's hotel, the Comfort Inn, and its adjacent strip of stores.
USA Niagara replaced the old shabby walkway in front of Glynn's newly acquired complex with new cobblestone, new sidewalks, bicycle racks, old-fashioned street lights, benches and a "mist" fountain, whose spray descends upon rocks culled from the very gorge where the Maid of the Mist boats operate.
Meanwhile, as Glynn was quietly securing the Comfort Inn, USA Niagara was buying out Glynn's competitors. Their plan included $1.6 million of taxpayers' money to buy and demolish the Wintergarden -- a historic glass building that stood between the East and West malls and was owned by "Smokin' Joe" Anderson. USA Niagara also bought Anderson’s vending rights to the East Mall, where Anderson had the right to sell retail products outdoors.
It may be a coincidence, but when USA Niagara was founded in 2003, it developed a master plan. One of its cardinal goals was saving the Wintergarden, which one advisory board member called an “irreplaceable architectural treasure.”
USA Niagara also bought out the West Mall street vendors’ lease from businessman Lou Antonacci. Antonacci’s vendors used to compete with the Comfort Inn's shops and restaurants. At the time USA Niagara made the deal, Glynn sat on their advisory board and did not reveal that he was in the process of buying the Comfort Inn complex. Antonacci was paid $310,000 of taxpayers' money for a $7,500-a-year lease he had with the city.
But Glynn is long used to getting government aid to eliminate competition. He has had monopoly rights for his Maid of the Mist boats on both banks of the lower Niagara river since 1971.
In 2002, New York State Parks, without competitive bidding, gave Glynn a 40-year lease to operate his boat tours. A spokesperson for the park said that there would be no bidding since Glynn had the lease on the Canadian side. One thing she failed to disclose at the time was that the Canadian lease expired in 2009. After he lost the Canadian lease in 2012, following a series in this newspaper exposing the secret nature of his sweetheart deal over there, Gov. Cuomo himself intervened to give Glynn a new 30-year no-bid contract in New York.
But governors love to help Glynn for reasons that are somewhat unclear and may have to be chalked up as coincidences.
Back in 2002, for instance, Gov. Pataki aided Glynn tremendously by sponsoring the state park's elimination of an attraction and $20 million dollars of taxpayer’s money went into the state project to "upgrade" the Prospect Point Observation Tower, which has the elevators that lead to Glynn’s boats.
The elevators that led down to his boats were doubled, but curiously, elevators which went up to the observation tower -- which gave tourists their only aerial view on the American side – were eliminated, along with the tower itself.
The state’s redesign of the observation deck also led to a policy of herding all people who visit it to a mandatory exit through the Glynn-owned Maid of the Mist souvenir store.
And going back to another big coincidence: Niagara Falls State Park is advertised as being an "Olmsted Park." Frederick Law Olmsted designed the park as an all-green reservation. But in the mid 1980’s, Albany felled acres of trees to make a giant parking lot. Prior to that, people visiting Niagara Falls parked in city lots and, consequently, patronized shops there. The state destroyed Olmsted's plan, and the city lost millions in parking and tourist business. But one man, coincidentally, benefited: James Glynn. He had a parking lot built near his attraction.
Today, the state is again, coincidentally, working on a plan that will aid Glynn immensely. USA Niagara and the State Office of Parks plan to redesign the Robert Moses Parkway. The “Riverway” plan presented to the public in December, 2009 shows the plan will not only increase traffic from the parkway but move the motor vehicle entranceway to right in front of Glynn's hotel.
Eureka! On the north side of his hotel and stores, a new walkway and fountain; on the south side a new parkway and much more traffic as a result of moving the entrance to the front of his hotel and stores. Inside the park, a souvenir store, the observation deck and a 30-year, no-bid lease are all at rents drastically under market rate.
It may all be a series of coincidences, but, as for me, I find it a bit hard to believe.