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New Shuttle Service Latest Nail in Downtown Niagara Falls Coffin

The potential for the Discover Niagara shuttle to convey tourists out of downtown Niagara Falls, ensuring that the city remains poor and on the brink of insolvency, is in Assemblyman John Ceretto’s estimation, “HUUUGE!”

by James Hufnagel

We took a closer look at the new “Discover Niagara Shuttle”, which made a big splash two weeks ago to the unbridled enthusiasm of the politicians and their invited guests at the Robert Moses Power Project, and came up with some serious questions regarding the logistics of the new transport system and its true impact on the local economy.

The stated purpose of the Discover Niagara Shuttle is, according to Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Executive Director Sara Capen, “(to) provide visitors with the opportunity to spend more time here… therefore making a positive economic impact in our region.” Assemblyman John Ceretto adds, “The shuttle will allow residents and visitors from around the world to stay longer and experience everything our region has to offer.”

Costing $820,000 annually, funded by NYPA, New York State Parks, USA Niagara Development Corp., Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., Assemblyman John Ceretto’s office and the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, (in other words, ratepayers, taxpayers and bed taxes), the service has been deemed “free” for the first two years.

Its viability after that is anyone’s guess, since the shuttle will steer clear of the Niagara Falls State Park, where every year eight million tourists park on one of 1500 parking spaces, ride Maid of the Mist and tour Cave of the Winds, eat Delaware North fast food, purchase souvenirs at one of several gift shops and then leave three or four hours later on the Robert Moses Parkway, avoiding the city altogether.

No, the new Discover Niagara Shuttle won’t be coming and going from Niagara Falls State Park, the most obvious terminus for such a service. That’s because the last thing Albany, Delaware North billionaire Jeremy Jacobs and Maid of the Mist tycoon James Glynn want is that those eight million tourists spend any time or money outside of their private tourism domain.

We asked this Discover Niagara shuttle driver if we could take her picture. Flattered, she replied, “Sure, just let me hide my cigarette.”

Accordingly, the shuttle disembarks from a bus stop next to the empty and abandoned “Turtle”, a drab location across the street from the state park and a fifteen-minute walk from the falls.

All aboard the Discover Niagara Shuttle! But not to the Niagara Falls Conference and Event Center, probably because there are rarely any Conferences or Events there. The first stop is the NTCC’s Niagara USA Visitors Center at Third and Rainbow, a great place to kill 35 minutes until the next shuttle.

Then it’s up Third Street, through the city’s tourism district, “through” being the operative word, since the only stop is at Old Falls Street, blocks away from 24 Below Cafe and Art Gallery, the popular Wine on Third or the soon-to-open Power City Eatery.t

The shuttle zips past these nascent small businesses that are struggling to survive in the city’s vaunted “tourism district”, desperately trying to avoid the fate that befell Yvonne’s, and more recently two others, the Bistro and Zaika Indian restaurant, which shuttered despite the millions spent by the city and USA Niagara to attract tourists to the decidedly unimpressive tourism strip.

Contrary to the official National Heritage map that’s available everywhere, it doesn’t then turn right on Main Street, following imaginary, non-existent streets en route to the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC). Instead, it turns right on Ferry, then left on Portage Avenue. The problem is, besides there being virtually nothing to do at the NACC outside of bad art and beer blasts, accessing the NACC from Main Street (and then Pine Avenue) would necessitate an awkward turn-around up and down side streets east of the NACC.

This can’t be overemphasized: the National Heritage shuttle map depicts an imaginary, utterly non-existent street route to the NACC. Did they really think nobody would notice?

Our analysis: the NACC was only added to the Discover Niagara Shuttle route as a pretense that downtown Niagara Falls has anything to offer tourists. In the future, after a time, the shuttle route will be quietly altered to proceed directly to the Niagara Aquarium, skipping the NACC, with its bad art and beer blasts, altogether.

Then it’s on to the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, Whirlpool State Park, the Power Vista and Fort Niagara, all attractions owned and operated by the state, and the Lewiston and Youngstown business districts, so that the people who abandoned downtown Niagara Falls a generation ago can also benefit from the shuttle service.

While a March 24 Buffalo News article identifies the new Stella Niagara Nature Preserve as a shuttle stop, it doesn’t appear to have made the final cut, probably for two reasons: it’s inconvenient to the Moses Parkway, and seriously, rich River Road folk don’t want subsidized buses cluttering up their scenic view of the lower river every few minutes.

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