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PARK OFFICIALS WANT TO RAZE FALLS TOWER

The 281-foot observation tower mars the landscape and is in such desperate need of repair that it should be demolished, state parks officials and area businessmen say.

"It's too tall, too big and too ugly," said Edward Rutkowski, district director of the Niagara Frontier State Parks and Recreation Commission. "And it's getting to the point where we have to do something."

Christopher Glynn, vice president of Maid of the Mist, would like to see the outdated tower demolished.

Rutkowski agreed.

"There should be a way to take that thing down and enhance the Maid of the Mist ride," Rutkowski said. "I think everyone agrees the tower is a blight on the land and a visual intrusion."

Built in 1961 by the New York Power Authority, the tower was hailed as an "aluminum-steel-and-glass marvel of engineering science," according to a tourism brochure.

But now -- almost 40 years later -- the aluminum steel is shedding its lead paint, and glass windows are clouded by layers of dirt accumulated over the years of use as a high-speed tourist shuttle.

The tower, however, with its two elevators, provides the only access on the American side to the thriving Maid of the Mist tourism attraction, annually shuffling a million tourists to the base of the falls.

"We need to have a conveyance to get people to the boats," said Glynn. "The tower, on many occasions, is not able to meet the demand at peak times. The elevators are too slow, and there's not enough of them."

Years ago, enhanced motors were installed to increase the speed of the elevators -- boosting the travel time from 250 to 500 feet per minute.

A new elevator system could cost close to $10 million, according to Rutkowski. Such a system would be similar to the one used at the Maid of the Mist Plaza at the foot of Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, Ont. There, elevator shafts cut through the escarpment, and tourists are transported through a tunnel to the excursion boats.

Painting the tower would be an involved process that could cost up to $3 million, said Henry Brodowski, deputy district director of the parks and recreation commission.

"The tower has a lead base, and if it is going to be repainted, it would require encapsulation," Brodowski explained.

State officials also are working on a remedy for the tower, with State Sen. George Maziarz vowing to make it a priority.

"I would like to see this ugly tower out of Niagara Falls and replaced by some aesthetically appealing device," said Maziarz, who suggested a conference in early December to form an action plan.

"I don't think the tower is maintained very well," Maziarz added. "And as the structure deteriorates, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain."

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