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The process of making Niagara Falls a federally recognized National Heritage Area takes another step on Monday, with the start of a feasibility report by the National Parks Service.

The famed waterfall is already at the heart of the nation's most famous state park, but making it a National Heritage Area would make it easier for the federal government to add money and expertise toward its development as a tourism center, said Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

The process will continue with a hearing at 11 a.m. Monday at Prospect Point, in the state park.

The federal effort was started by Schumer and former Rep. John J. LaFalce, who secured $300,000 in federal funds for the studies required by law.

"The community did not want this to be a national park," with less local control, Schumer said. But make it a National Heritage Area, and it remains a state park while benefiting from federal involvement, he said.

The National Parks Service can contribute to the efforts already under way to create partnerships with local businesses, Schumer said. Federal park officials also have considerable expertise in marketing to draw tourists to their sites and giving them more attractions to enjoy, he said.

The National Parks Service study will take about a year to complete. Once that happens, "My role will be to try to get federal dollars to implement the plan," Schumer said, in a way that complements state government's efforts.

Schumer offered Lowell, Mass., as an example of the benefits of a National Heritage Area.

The fading mill town had turned former textile factories into museums, but hadn't tied their offerings into the larger community, Schumer said. With a National Heritage Area, Schumer said, Lowell had "local control, and federal dollars, plus the expertise of the National Park Service in how to integrate the area with the community and market it for tourism."

"One of the problems with Niagara Falls is that people go, take a look and leave," Schumer said. "Lowell had the same problem: People would visit a mill and leave."

In Niagara Falls, Schumer said, all the area has to offer should be presented as a package. "Theoretically, when you go to Niagara Falls, we can say, 'This is the Niagara Falls casino, this is the Niagara Falls amusement park, this is the Niagara Falls convention center.' "

Niagara Falls should be able to succeed, even in the post-Sept. 11 world that has made border controls more stringent and tourists more wary of international travel, Schumer said.

Canadian and U.S. officials agree that it shouldn't come down to a choice between security and tourism, he said. "We want to have both -- better security at the border for people going back and forth, but at the same time, we don't want to slow down tourism or commerce," Schumer said.

Accomplishing both will take time, money and technology, he said, "but I think there's a real effort to get that done."


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