Earlier this year Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster assured taxpayers in this highly taxed city that his $44 million, 20,000 square foot, International Railway and Intermodal Transportation Center and Underground Railroad Interpretive Center would open in June.
Unlike the old train 800 square foot station – which was funded entirely by Amtrak – the tenant – the new train station will be funded by taxpayers at an estimated cost of $500,000 per year.
The added cost by the way will necessitate – all by itself – a tax increase of nearly two percent for property owners in the city.
Dyster however plans a more massive increase in taxes through a property tax reassessment which should hike property taxes for residents by more than 17 percent.
As of today, Thursday, June 24, 2016, the station is nearing completion, however not a single record exists that a contract has been signed with any prospective tenant to use the building in any way.
There is a 500-foot train platform, but no contract with Amtrak to use it. There is space for restaurants and retail shops, but no contracts with restaurant or retail shop owners to use it. There is a section where the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Interpretive Center is supposed to go, but the city still hasn’t signed a contract with the Underground Railroad Commission that will operate the center.
There is an area on the second floor earmarked for use by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that been outfitted with kevlar reinforced doors, bullet- and blast-resistant glass, 360 degree surveillance infrastructure and a series of grey and largely windowless “interview rooms” where those detained at the crossing could be questioned. Is there a contract with the federal law enforcement organization to use the facility in any way, shape or form?
Out in the parking lot there is a large area for Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority buses to pick up rail passengers and Greyhound buses to bring even more tourists to the Cataract City. Inside the facility there are counters for the bus companies to service customers and ample waiting room for the customers themselves.
All that’s missing is contracts with either of the bus companies to use the facility.
There is nothing that would compel Amtrak, U.S. Customs, the Underground Railroad Commission, the NFTA or Greyhound, or any store or restaurant from locating in the facility.
Niagara Falls already has a train station, at 2701 Willard Ave. No Amtrak official has ever publicly expressed any interest whatsoever in moving into Dyster’s new facility.
Greyhound operates out of space it rents at Quality Inn and Suites in the heart of the tourist district. Like Amtrak, the company would seem to have little incentive to want to relocate in the comparatively scary North End neighborhood chosen by Dyster for his train station.
NFTA has several stops in the city, one of the busiest being on Portage Road, where the Route 40 line between Niagara Falls and downtown Buffalo attracts many riders. NFTA has been in the location for many years, why would they want to move?
U.S. Customs has its’ offices on Rainbow Boulevard at Third Street, near the foot of the Rainbow Bridge. This only makes sense, because as many as 5 million people cross the border using the Rainbow Bridge every year.
The number of train passengers coming in from Canada is fewer than 10 a day, well under 5,000 a year. Why would the feds want to establish a major presence there?
As for the restaurants and retail shops, they will only be interested in coming once it is demonstrated that the facility can attract enough traffic to make their operations profitable.
And thus far, there is nothing to generate any traffic at all.
Niagara Falls is one of the poorest preforming train destinations in the state garnering only 32,000 riders per year coming and going.
That translates to about 40 passengers going each way per day.
Nowhere else does this translate into the need for a mammoth train station.
The new train station is doomed to be empty most of the time.
The project was evidently developer and engineer driven and Wendel Duscherer Engineers who designed the train station made millions in fees.
Dyster is a close friend of Dave Duscherer and the new train station might be called an elegant gift from one friend to another.
For years, Dyster has persuaded federal funding agencies, the local media and the voters of Niagara Falls with his “vision” of a new train station here.
When it came time to deliver, what the city got was a big, empty $44 million building located in a dodgy part of town.
The train station to nowhere.