Shell Shocked: Niagara’s Not-So-Historic Turtle Taken Off Table

Cultural Appropriation Fails in Falls

Council rejects faulty proposal to force faded Turtle building to remain ‘preserved’

Niagara Falls, NY—Common sense prevailed as the City Council rejected Buffalo’s woke quest to designate the 42-year-old fading Turtle building as a historic landmark.

At the council meeting, the Buffalo group, known locally as the “Turtle Takers,“ brought in several individuals, from children to out-of-town interlopers, to demand that the failed Native American Center for the Living Arts, which briefly occupied the Turtle decades ago, be honored by designating the Turtle “historic” so its owners cannot develop the property.

None of the two dozen speakers offered to invest in renovating the failed structure.

The Turtle Building is so named because it was built as a domed auditorium with the concrete head, legs, and tail of what was supposed to be a turtle. The dome represented the shell. The concrete tail was removed and busted into debris about 20 years ago.

Historic preservation would require the owners to always preserve the decaying and obsolete Turtle, which sits on nearly two acres of prime land adjacent to Niagara Falls State Park, and never develop their land.

The Turtle building (dome) sits adjacent to the Niagara Falls State Park, and its highest and best use might require its demolition.

Council Chair James Perry (D), Members Traci Bax (R), and David Zajac (R) voted no to the proposal to grant the Turtle historic status. Council Member Donta Myles (D) abstained from voting on the proposal. Only Council Member Brian Archie (D), who sponsored the resolution to confirm the Falls Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation to designate the Turtle as a city landmark, voted yes.

It was a good result for city taxpayers, who will be spared the cost of defending a lawsuit from the owners and the possible subsidizing with grants and studies of the ideas of the Turtle Takers, a motley group of Buffalo do-gooders, “pretendians,” cultural appropriators, and behind the scenes a group of Buffalo elites who want to secure the lucrative architectural contracts that would come if the Turtle was designated historical, and city taxpayers were to foot the bill for its various design studies, drawings, renderings, and feasibility studies.

While the Preservation Commission compiled a 712-page Report and Recommendation recommending the Turtle be designated a landmark, the voluminous report does not mention where the 20-40 million in funding will come from to preserve the long-vacant building.

The Turtle is owned by NFR Turtle LLC, a subsidiary of Niagara Falls Redevelopment (NFR). An NFR attorney, Ryan Altieri, explained why the proposal to designate the Turtle “historic” was illegal.

Altieri said the council was “legally bound” to reject the landmark designation based on the structure’s age – it is less than 50 years old, which is the benchmark for historic designation, a lack of support from various Falls city departments, and the possible illegal composition of the Buffalo-influenced Preservation Commission.

Altieri reminded the council that the Turtle has no history to speak of. It was a failure during the brief time it was operational. Out of the 42 years since it was built, the Turtle has been vacant for 29 years. During its brief operations as a Native American auditorium and museum, its Tuscarora owners failed to attract business, went into debt, and left the building, forgetting nothing but to say goodbye to their creditors.

The building’s poor design may have contributed to its failure. The auditorium is nearly 67,000 square feet, but seats only 400 people—usually, auditoriums of that size seat 5000 or more. There is no parking.

The terrible acoustics of the three-story dome were not taken into account when the building was designed, and the non-energy efficiency also helped drive the Tuscarora owners into bankruptcy,

But the Buffalo group and other out-of-town people who want to force the owners to be bound by the historic designation become dewy-eyed when they speak of the Turtle’s wispy connection with Native American architecture, little understanding that Native Americans did not build giant concrete auditoriums.

The Buffalo group ignores this and points to the Turtle’s concrete head. It wants to promote Native American religious beliefs, since some Native Americans believe a giant Turtle created North America.

“The Turtle is not a historic landmark,” Altieri concluded. However, the NFR lawyer said his client would listen to “alternative offers” for the Turtle, including proposals to purchase the property.

Posers Come Forward

Michael Martin, the executive director of Native American Community Services of Erie & Niagara Counties, claimed his agency had previously met with NFR representatives to discuss the Turtle’s future and potentially explore the possibility of taxpayers paying for the purchase and renovation of the vacant building.

“Our organization would be (interested) in making this building an asset to future generations,” Martin said. However, Martin declined to provide proof of funds to disclose whether his group had the tens of millions of funding necessary to purchase and renovate the building.

The Turtle is not on native land, but part of the City of Niagara Falls.  Few local Indians attended the council vote, since local interest by the Seneca Nation is nil.

Interloper With Job Ambitions

However, Elizabeth Adams, a Mohawk from the Six Nations Grand River Territory in Canada, told the council that the Turtle inspired her career as a museum curator and educator. Consequently, she wants to burden the present owners with restrictions to prevent property development.

“I did this hoping to protect and preserve its beauty and symbolism and turning back into a museum,” Adams, who, like the others who spoke, offered no suggestions about funding the renovation of the obsolete building to convert it to a museum.

Possibly angling for a job, Adams added, “To educate and re-educate visitors about Indigenous history through storytelling. I cannot tell these stories if you tear that building down.”

Citing numbers without context, Adams misled the council when she said Indigenous tourism is a $14 billion industry in the United States.

The study she referred to, created by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA), did not say tourists spend $14 billion for Native American tourism, but rather discussed how Native American-owned hotels and restaurants (not connected with Indigenous tourism, unless one counts gambling as Indigenous) had an economic impact of $14 billion out of the US $760 billion hotel and restaurant businesses – and has nothing whatsoever to do with demand for Indigenous tourism.

Cultural Appropriations Expert

Bernice Radle, the executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, attempted to challenge NFR’s lawyer’s legal findings. She expected to debate, but the attorney left city hall after speaking.  Radle seemed unaware that this was not a public hearing. That had been held in February. Still, Radle, grandstanding, defended the Preservation Commission’s report.

“We need to save the Turtle. It should be landmarked. We are the experts.”

She cited no credentials for her expertise, nor did she explain how she, the expert, could save the Turtle. Instead, she implied she had done the hard part – the talking – and left it to others to pay for her expert advice.

Turtle Building

Turtle Takers Rely on Children

The thin ranks of the Turtle Takers led to children speaking.

Amelia Jacob, a member of Niagara Falls High School’s Native American Youth Club, who wants the “reawakening” of the long slumbering Turtle, told the council, “This is more than a building to us. It is a piece of every native standing before you tonight.”

This was a fine sentiment from a child who had never been inside the Turtle. It had been closed for more than a decade before she was born.

Another child, Madelyn Jacob, said, “The Turtle was taken from us, like candy from a baby.”

The entitled child’s remarks drew smiles, but one audience member was overheard saying, “Why does she think she is owed candy at other people’s expense?”

In response to NFR’s suggestions that the land where The Turtle sits would be better used as a hotel, the Jacobs child said, “People don’t come to Niagara Falls to take pictures of a hotel.”

She is right. People come to Niagara Falls to see the falls and stay at hotels. They do not come to the falls to take pictures of the Turtle, even when it was operational.

That was the problem: Nobody came to the Turtle when it was operating.

Fight for the Right to Boss Others

After the council meeting, the Turtle Takers said they would continue their efforts to force the owners to achieve landmark status. Representatives of the Buffalo group, PBN, suggested during the meeting that the council’s failure to adopt the Preservation Commission recommendation could lead to legal action but failed to cite on what legal grounds a group of out-of-towners had over the legal rights of the people of Niagara Falls to be represented by an elected city council as opposed to non-elected “experts.”

Of course, the threat of a lawsuit was an empty bluff, since someone would have to pay lawyers to bring the lawsuit, which, legally, they would have no chance of winning.

The interlopers are not interested in investing money into the Turtle, but in taking money out of the Turtle.

The Turtle Talers’ bizarre and embarrassing performance at Niagara Falls City Hall and the intelligent response by the council, led by Chairman Perry, sent a clear message to the interlopers.

Niagara Falls has had enough of this silly type of bossism, where out-of-towners tell the people of the falls what to do without offering any real help.

They have wreaked havoc on the city in the past. Fortunately, a new and wiser council had the moral courage to stand up to the over-woke bosses from Buffalo and send them packing. They left disappointed, realizing that the people in the Falls weren’t the fools they had hoped. There Pretendian efforts will however no doubt go on unabated.

The Turtle Could Possibly Be a Monster From Outer Space Museum

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