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INFRASTRUCTURE GIVES CITY LEG UP IN REDEVELOPMENT

Niagara Falls' existing infrastructure structure is one of the assets that make development here attractive, the president of the Niagara Falls Redevelopment Corp. told the Greater Lewiston Business & Professional Association.

Brian A. Meilleur, speaking at the association's annual dinner in the Riverside Inn, said Niagara Falls has a "tremendous infrastructure for a city of its size, including the Convention & Civic Center, parking and fiber optics system."

"Those things kill most developments. We already have them," he said.

It also has one of the greatest wonders of the world and about 14 million tourists who are estimated to come here each year, he said.

He said the city needs three things to make it a world-class tourist destination -- transportation to get people there and move them around once they're there; upgraded accommodations for them to stay in; and entertainment to keep them there. The redevelopment group, headed by Toronto businessman Edwin A. Cogan, has a contract with the city to spend at least $130 million over the next eight years developing those things.

Meilleur said an airport is one of the "greatest economic cannons any city has."

"Years ago most cities were built on seaports. Today it's airports. That's how people and cargo come in," Meilleur said. "You've got an airport that just needs the lights turned on."

The area also needs a people mover system starting at the airport, going downtown and into Canada. He said the development group is working hard to make certain that a fixed rail-based people mover system now being planned for Niagara Falls, Ont., will be built so that it can link with a system here someday.

Meilleur said hotels here are "arguably in the two to three star range." They have to be upgraded and new ones built in the four to five star range. He said 11 new hotels are on the drawing board in Niagara Falls, Ont. And, a resort-style hotel is planned in conjunction with the new permanent casino.

Visitors also need something to do after they've seen the falls. The average visitor stay here is estimated at about four hours -- a stop to see the falls on the way to someplace else. To make Niagara Falls a primary destination and make people want to stay, Meilleur said world-class entertainment is needed. Entertainment, too, must be coordinated with what exists in Niagara Falls, Ont.

"We've got to make sure we don't duplicate what's over there," Meilleur said. "We don't need two splash parks."

David Carter, deputy commissioner of Ontario's Waterfront Regeneration Trust, said Lewiston has done well to define the waterfront as one of its priorities. The village has made improvements to its riverfront park, boat launch and docks. Renovations currently are under way to convert an old coal silo into a fast food restaurant. Efforts are being made to bring in a new ferry service to Toronto.

Carter and the Waterfront Regeneration Trust are working with the Cogan group to develop plans for the waterfront. Envisioned is a park system that would run from Buffalo to Youngstown, similar to the system that has been developed in Canada.

He said Lewiston is a small village and "small is beautiful." He said that doesn't mean that there can't be any growth. But, he said the village should work to maintain its unique character through its heritage, culture and link to the river.

County Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, said he believes the Cogan group will be successful because "they're coming into town as leaders, not bosses" and they're giving local people, businesses and leaders an opportunity to become involved in their projects.

"And, it's working," said Mark Turgeon, outgoing president of the business association. "I've never seen such a positive response from businesses."

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