Cuomo Pledges $17 Million To Fix Up Park: Crime, Joblessness, Poverty Remain

by Mike Hudson

So the Governor of New York State decides to spend $17 million on Niagara Falls State Park – which of course is owned by New York State – and local politicians and the media fall over swooning as though it were some kind of big win for the city of Niagara Falls?

Do the math. Since the Seneca Niagara Casino opened in 2002, the vampires in Albany have carted off a minimum of $60 million per year, generated by a business located at the corner of Niagara and Fourth streets. Over 14 years, that alone amounts to $840 million.

Over that same period, revenue – mostly from parking – at the state park itself has netted the Albany a minimum of $210 million, averaging at least $15 million a year.

That’s right. In the past 14 years, the state has taken well over a billion dollars out of the Niagara Falls economy.

In light of that brutal fact, exactly how big of a deal does Cuomo’s announcement about spending a paltry $17 million sprucing up the park seem?

Not that the park doesn’t need sprucing up. As long ago as 2012, state parks officials were defending the park from hits it was taking in the national media. They were particularly stung by a New York Times Travel piece that called the park “shabby and underfinanced.”

When the New York Times peaks, Cuomo listens.

The park and the falls themselves are one of the top tourist destinations on the face of the planet, and have been since the early 19th Century. Today, as many as 8 million tourists a year visit the park.

The city benefits but little. The state has created 1,500 parking spaces within the park itself and contracted with Delaware North to provide restaurant dining and fast food. Visitors can and often do spend a day at Niagara Falls, New York, without ever setting foot in the city.

When they do, they’re often horrified by what they find. The crime ridden city of Niagara Falls has been named in numerous national rankings as the most dangerous municipality in the state of New York and one of the most dangerous in the entire country.

Tourists venturing out of their hotels to take a look around, particularly after dark, can find themselves in a lot of trouble very quickly, particularly if they make the mistake of crossing nearby Niagara Street. Suddenly, they find themselves in one of the worst slums this country has to offer. Muggings of tourists stopping at the highly visible convenience store just across the street from the casino for snacks and sodas, or headed to one of the several watering holes and restaurants in the Third Street “entertainment district” are common occurrences here.

And even more common are automobile break ins at surface parking lots everywhere in the tourist district itself. Barely a night goes by between April and August that one of these property crimes is not reported.

But there was no talk of any of that last week when Cuomo announced he was going to spend a relatively small amount on fixing up his shabby and under-financed park, which had become a political embarrassment.

Cuomo patted himself on the back with great vigor.

“Niagara Falls State Park is truly one of the crown jewels of New York, offering unparalleled natural beauty and some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the nation,” the Governor said. “This investment builds the good progress we have made to transform Western New York from the ground up – revitalizing our state parks and historic sites, boosting tourism and creating thousands of well-paying jobs. Today we are recapturing the bold vision and determination that created the most ambitious parks system in the nation, and preserving and enhancing our natural treasures for generations to come.”

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster bowed and scraped, trying to say the same thing Cuomo said but in different words. He wasn’t very successful.

“Niagara Falls is not only the nation’s oldest state park, but it is also one of New York’s most important conservation legacies,” Dyster said. “Throughout his tenure in office, Governor Cuomo has made Niagara Falls a top priority. He has shown a deep dedication to protecting New York’s natural environment and promoting stewardship in the region – and this investment is no exception. This funding will ensure this region remains a top destination for residents, visitors and tourists alike for generations to come.”

Assemblyman John Ceretto, who thinks so much of Cuomo’s special brand of leadership that he quit the Republican Party to become a Democrat, was beside himself.

“Niagara Falls is one of the world’s great natural wonders and I am grateful to have been a part of this commitment to protecting and preserving our historic state park,” he said. “Through this $17 million investment, as part of a larger $70 million multi-year commitment, we will see Niagara Falls State Park restored to its original grandeur. I thank the governor and look forward to ensuring Niagara Falls continues to serve as an economic engine for Western New York – creating jobs and driving tourism for years to come.”

If Niagara Falls is an economic engine, somebody needs to call a mechanic. A shocking 7.8 percent of city residents are receiving unemployment checks, compared to just 5.7 percent statewide.

And a nauseating 32.3 percent of Niagara Falls residents are living below the federal poverty level. One out of every three men, women and children. It’s unbelievable but it is true.

Couldn’t the $75 million that the state takes away each year go a long way toward addressing chronic problems such as crime, high unemployment and crushing poverty? And wouldn’t solving these problems – or even addressing them in some meaningful way – make Niagara Falls, New York, a far more attractive place for visitors from around the world?

Those are questions Cuomo, Dyster and Ceretto weren’t asked last week. And it’s a crying shame.

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