Critics say that Niagara Falls State Park could easily relocate its visitor center

The management of the Niagara Falls State Park has been criticized in recent years for the over-built, asphalt-intensive, and commercial nature of the scenic landscape — which some say desecrates a natural monument that is sacred to many of North America’s indigenous people.

Many local indigenous activists, urban planners, and tourism industry advocates have called on the State Park to begin removing its vast surface parking lots, unnecessary roadways, and concession facilities out of the park.  They argue in favor of relocating the Orin Lehman Visitor Center outside of the park, too.

The former Occidental Chemical building is now a Niagara Falls welcome center with retail outlets, a food court, and a theater. The 135,000 square foot facility is mostly vacant.  The building’s owner has been subject to political pressure to begin redeveloping the property.

The One Niagara Welcome Center is a private visitor’s center owned by local real estate developer Gordon Reger and managed by his attorney Paul Grenga.  Many Niagara Falls residents think that it would make more sense for the State Parks Department to lease two or three floors of the former Occidental Chemical headquarters, in order to accommodate the information and exhibits on display at the current facility.

Gordon Reger

Reger is the eldest son and heir of the late Larry Reger, whose company developed hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space across a dozen states. Reger Holdings is based in West Seneca and is responsible for redeveloping the Larkin Center of Commerce, among other properties. His family owns the One Niagara Center.

“The Lehman Center is situated to obstruct the incoming pedestrian traffic from Old Falls Street and Niagara Street.  Rather than having an open pedestrian promenade meandering to the Falls, visitors are funneled inside the building or forced to backtrack and walk around the structure in a convoluted way,” explains one architecture critic who is familiar with the City’s real estate scene.

Advocates argue that removing that structure is the first step to a much-improved environment and experience for visitors to the Falls.  The second step, in their view, would be to remove the parking lots and the Top of the Falls restaurant near Terrapin Point.

It’s likely that the State could lease three floors of the One Niagara Center — that’s more than 45,000 square feet — for less than $12 per square foot, while enjoying considerably better views of the waterfalls.  The building is located about 300 feet from the current site, but is across Prospect Street, just outside of the park.

The One Niagara Center currently operates as a ‘Grand Central’ hub from which various bus tours depart.  In recent years, seasonal boutiques operating outside the venue have animated the streetscape, but the property’s large surface parking lot is considered by some as a blight on the neighborhood.

Tourism industry experts think that a more natural and eco-centric experience at Niagara Falls would enhance the destination, congruent with market trends — which prefer more authentic, nature-, recreation-, or culture-oriented experiences.


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