While Buffalo enjoys a massive renaissance of waterfront reclamation and renewal, Niagara Falls has been left behind.
This is because, from the Grand Island bridge to the Falls and north to the Power Project, miles upon miles of Niagara Falls waterfront are owned and operated by State Parks and NYPA, which ultimately answer to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature. The recent upgrading of the south Scenic Parkway (nee Robert Moses) and traffic circle hugging the Niagara River, the enhancement of parking, dining and gift shop facilities in Niagara Falls State Park and the ongoing theft of hydropower from the Power Project, all contribute to Albany’s bottom line while depriving local residents of the quality of life, economic spin-off and environmental benefits that should be our legacy.
Hundreds of millions of dollars from the Niagara Power Project and tens of millions from Niagara Falls State Park flow into Albany coffers and the pockets of its top campaign contributors like Delaware North and Maid of the Mist every year, imparting to Niagara Falls the dubious distinction of being the most crime-ridden (FBI, 2016) and one of the highest-taxed (Tax Foundation, 2015) of all cities in New York State.
Here is a list of local elected leaders who not only remain silent on this terrible injustice, but in some cases, facilitate it: Mayor Paul Dyster, Assemblyman John Ceretto (himself a former State Parks administrator), State Senator Robert Ortt, the City Council and county legislators.
Dyster, in particular, has probably done more than all of the above together, when it comes to putting the waterfront and its wealth out of the reach of his city for the next fifty years.
It was Dyster who “compromised” with the state when it came “removing” the south Moses Parkway. Despite the overwhelming public demand to get rid of the concrete albatross (see Niagara Gazette, April 28, 2009), the sole purpose of which is to funnel tourists from Buffalo and points south directly into Niagara Falls State Park, bypassing the downtown business district, Dyster signed off on the project and shoveled the ceremonial dirt with state officials for the road upgrade, and construction of an isolated, useless traffic roundabout on the Niagara River waterfront.
As Vice-Chair of the Niagara Greenway Commission, Paul Dyster presided over the meeting at which the Commission approved the $50 million upgrade of Niagara Falls State Park, focused on the expansion of parking lots and enhancement of dining and gift shop facilities for the eight million tourists who visit the park every year – all economic activities that should be taking place in the city of Niagara Falls, benefiting local businesses and the local economy.
When life-long family friend and prodigious contributor to Dyster campaigns James Glynn needed a new $32 million boatyard in the Niagara Gorge, Dyster was his fervent champion both here and in Albany, calling those who expressed concerns about destruction of an Historic Landmark site as well as the building of additional obtrusive infrastructure in the Gorge, bizarrely, “self-haters”.
He wasn’t done yet. After leading north Moses Parkway removal advocates down the primrose path for years, including sponsoring the $140,000 “Regional Economic Growth Through Ecological Restoration of the Niagara Gorge Rim” study by consultants EDR Companies of Syracuse, NY, which unequivocally called for the north Moses Parkway’s removal all the way to the city line, Dyster acquiesced to removal only as far as Findlay Drive, an utterly useless exercise that merely sets back the roadway 100 feet (to Whirlpool), does nothing about the State Parks maintenance garage at the top of the Gorge and does little to accomplish the economic and environmental benefits of total removal. And quite frankly, with an anticipated start date of Spring, 2018, nobody really thinks, after ten years of Dyster in office, even the stunted removal project to Findlay will take place.
Name one thing that Mayor Paul Dyster got for his city in return from Cuomo and Albany for selling out, over and over again, his city, its waterfront birthright and its economic prosperity, other than meager state subsidies for some downtown box hotels.
Also on the waterfront Hall of Shame list are enablers like Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy – non-profits that purportedly advocate for waterfront as part of their mission, but in reality must avoid stepping on toes in order to keep the grant money rolling in.
It isn’t the first time we’ve called out “Buffalo Olmsted” for their hypocrisy and provincialism.
Buffalo Olmsted actually loaded a bus with breathless parks advocates to journey to Niagara Falls State Park, at a big press conference there a couple of years back, to ooh and ahh at the bulldozing, fencing off and paving of Three Sisters Islands. Niagara Falls State Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, but after Cuomo’s $50 million worth of “upgrades”, it more resembles an industrial tourism complex, making Disney look like a nature preserve in comparison.
“Now is the time to embrace our history and engage our park legacy, especially as the 150th anniversary of Olmsted in Buffalo quickly approaches. Well done, Buffalo! This is what it’s all about; this is the mission of your conservancy – valuing the beauty, accessibility and quality of life your Olmsted Park system provides to all citizens of Western New York,” wrote Buffalo Olmsted Executive Director Stephanie L. Crockatt in a recent letter to the Buffalo News headlined, “It’s terrific to see traffic removed from Front Park.”
She was extolling the removal of Baird Drive in Front Park, one of several Olmsted parks in Buffalo, an initiative that restored parkland and better access for pedestrians and bicyclists, just one more example of how Buffalo is continuing to improve and capitalize on its waterfront assets. Meanwhile, Niagara Falls languishes, its waterfront irretrievably out-of-reach, thanks to Dyster, Ceretto, Glynn, Cuomo and their cast of cronies.