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Ceretto Calls for Drastic Cut in Parking at Niagara Falls State Park; Wants Tourists to Park in City

By Frank Parlato

John Ceretto has a plan to reduce or eliminate parking in the State Park.

Olmsted strove for the Niagara Falls State Park to inspire "pensive contemplation." He planned for the park to be entirely green. He knew people do not get contemplative surrounded by stores and parking lots. Olmsted's plan, in fact, forbade restaurants and stores in the park. And, of course, parking lots. So where did Olmsted go wrong? Photo by John Helms

The Niagara Falls State Park practices an audacious brand of false advertising claiming the park is an "Olmsted Park". Olmsted forbade parking lots in the park he designed. Look at the pictures. They have converted Olmsted's all-green park into a massive parking lot with restaurants and souvenir businesses - all directly against Olmsted's vision. Photo by Steve Barnes.

Poor Olmsted: The Niagara Falls State Park, with acres clear cut of trees for parking lots, roads, restaurants and stores, certainly should not be advertised as an "Olmsted Park." But Olmsted is dead anyway, so who cares?

This could be the start of something big.

Buried within a new bill, Assemblyman John Ceretto (R,C,I-Lewiston) is advocating something potentially very exciting: The removal of the paid parking lots at the Niagara Falls State Park.

Ceretto is proposing three measures to enhance tourism in Niagara Falls, one of which includes the reduction of the Goat Island parking lots, and leaves the door open to the elimination of all paid parking inside the state park, a move that would create a boom for businesses in the city and something Ceretto told the Reporter he supports.

"Except for handicapped parking, I would like to see all paid parking eliminated," Ceretto said.

Ceretto's bill, however, does not go anywhere near that far - for the present.

He is sponsoring something he calls the "Niagara Parks Reinvestment Act," that would require 50 percent of present parking revenues generated at state parks in Niagara County to be deposited in the Niagara Parks Reinvestment Fund in order to pay for park preservation and improvements.

Most of the parking revenue comes from only one state park, however: the Niagara Falls State Park.

With 900 paid parking spaces, it brings in some $2 million per year, at $10 a car.

The rest of all paid parking in all state parks in the county does not equal even a faction of the revenue generated from the Niagara Falls State Park. Ceretto is, however, proposing reducing the size of the parking lots on Goat Island in order to "further expand Goat Island's natural appeal and to promote tourism."

He is also pushing for the redesign of the Robert Moses Parkway, an initiative for which Ceretto has long been an advocate.

Currently, revenues generated by parks in Niagara County are deposited in the general fund and spent on projects throughout the state. Ceretto's Niagara Parks Reinvestment Act would require 50 percent of the money generated by the parks to stay local so that there is a source of revenue that can be used to make park improvements.

Not a bad idea, if there is going to be continued parking in the Niagara Falls State Park.

"It does not make sense for revenues generated by our local parks to be taken by the state only for the parks to have to fight every year during the budget process to get some of it back. It is much simpler to keep the money local and use it to preserve and improve Niagara's beautiful parks," said Ceretto. "The Niagara Parks Reinvestment Act would enable Niagara County's parks to keep half of their revenues to preserve the parks for the next generation of Western New Yorkers."

Ceretto told the Reporter, he is interested in expanding his efforts and wants to explore "working with local officials and seeking their input on removing all of the parking at the State Park," he said. "This could begin the process of total parking removal."

Ceretto added that if Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster were to propose the removal of parking (except handicap parking), Ceretto would support that and work at the state level to accomplish that goal.

"It has to start at the local level," he said. "We need a request from the local government to remove the parking." Prior to the 1980's, there was only limited handicap parking in the Niagara Falls State Park. The large parking lots were added to enhance the bottom line of State Parks as it converted the Niagara Falls State Park from a mostly green oasis into a profitable business enterprise for Albany with stores and restaurants and for James Glynn's Maid of the Mist boat tour attraction. As they clear cut acres of trees, State Parks had to veer far from the vision of original park designer Frederick Law Olmsted who specifically prohibited parking lots as well as all commercial enterprises in the park in his park design plan. Ceretto has launched what is in effect a return to Olmsted principles and he needs local support. Mayor Dyster told the Reporter he might support such a measure. "The city is generally trying to park more cars in the city and as few as possible in the parkland," Dyster said, explaining he favors greener parklands and more parking revenue for the city. The city has more than 2,200 parking spaces within 600 feet of the state park, including 1,882 spaces in the Rainbow Ramp. On most days these parking lots are nearly empty. The shift of the bulk of $2 million from state parking revenues to city parking revenues would be a bonanza for city coffers not to mention the extra business for city businesses that would come from tourists parking in the city then entering the park. It is well known that tourists park in the state park and never visit the city, and, consequently, spend every dime in the state park from parking to souvenirs to meals. "I have not seen Ceretto's plan," Dyster said, "But I generally support the concept" that people parking in the city will spend more money in the city and that the park would be more attractive to tourists with more green [space] and less pavement. Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian also said he would support the removal of parking in the Niagara Falls State Park. "I am definitely for it," Choolokian said. "The parking has been benefiting the state for years and years. They want it all. The tourists are going to the state park and the city is benefiting nothing. There are so many things the state does that do not benefit Niagara Falls. I will definitely support it." On the State Senate side, Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane) said he liked the idea. "I would be supportive of it, particularly on Goat Island. We could develop a system of having a trolley to take people to the park. That's basically what the Canadians do. They're parking lots are over at Dufferin Island and near Marineland and they have a people mover to take people close to the falls." Ceretto pointed out that at Disneyland and other notable attractions, the parking lots are outside the attractions. "It should be the same with the Niagara Falls State Park." he said. Asked if this might present a challenge and that people need to park their cars right on top of the gorge practically, in order to enjoy the falls, Ceretto said, "Even if they park in the city, people will still find the falls." Unlike other state parks that help support local businesses, the Niagara Falls State Park, said to be the most visited in the nation with eight million annual visitors, developed into a business in competition with the city and private sector. The New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation advertises the park as "an Olmsted Park" suggesting that this most famous of all waterfalls has a park surrounding it that operates according to the careful design of America's most famous landscape architect. A sort of Olmsted hypocrisy among Parks officials is much commented upon by those who know something of Olmsted. Olmsted's name is invoked for almost every deed Parks officials do. Indeed, it has become axiomatic that whenever Parks officials say they are going to do something "Olmsted inspired," it means they are going to violate at least one of Olmsted's guiding principles. Olmsted planned only one 20-foot wide road in the park and no parking lots. "The (sole) road should be as narrow as it can be," Olmsted wrote, "because at best many trees must be destroyed."



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

JUN 11, 2013