Urban design and tourism advocates are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to commit to removing Niagara Falls State Park’s three surface parking lots, which they argue blight the park and detract from its natural awe. Cuomo has refused similar demands in recent years, but uncertain re-election prospects have the Governor rethinking old grudges in order to earn political support in the most opposition-leaning region of the state.
Political observers agree that removing the parking lots would be an easy and highly visible achievement that could be executed without legislative action and could be announced just before the general election later this year. Liberals and the design community in New York City would fawn over the progressive eco-centric symbolism, while the business community in Western New York would applaud the attentiveness to the tourism industry.
The only opponents of the plan are two particular businessmen who have enjoyed longstanding state-granted monopolies in the park: Jeremy Jacobs, the owner of Delaware North, which operates the park’s restaurant and concessions; and James Glynn, the owner of Maid of the Mist, which operates the park’s tour boats.
Advocates for removing the parking lots say that neither firm’s revenues will be hurt. They argue that transforming the park into a lush ecological experience (that requires a substantial walk into the wilderness in order to view the cataract) enhances the destination and will increase tourist volumes.
Empire State Development official Christopher Schoepflin, who heads the administration’s economic development efforts in the region, has embraced a more eco-centric vision for the park, advocating for new hiking trails in the gorge and scrapping plans for a proposed lodge within the park’s boundaries.
Business interests in the city’s downtown want badly for the state to remove the parking lots. Requiring visitors to park a few blocks into the city will provide droves of new pedestrian traffic, which would help drive restauranteurs’ and merchandizers’ revenue growth.
Many proprietors along the Old Falls Street and Third Avenue commercial districts would like to see the State close the Top of the Falls restaurant located near the precipice, arguing that there’s no way for the city’s locally owned establishments to compete with such views. They postulate that visitors walking a few blocks to find a place to sit down for dinner will liven the vibrancy of the entire city.