Perhaps the most important thing a struggling downtown can do is foster pride in itself, suggests Anthony Capece, who recently worked with a group of downtown business owners to form a new association.
The Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association, which will begin by focusing on cleanliness and the overall perception of the downtown Falls tourist area, was officially formed in November. The group passed its bylaws last week.
"It's really a matter of being at such an early stage that they need to get a sense of ownership," said Capece, who is the executive director of the Central Avenue Business Improvement District in Albany and offered free consulting services to the association. "A lot of upstate [New York] cities went through losing business to suburban growth. There is such a learning curve that everybody has to get back into downtown, self-exploring their assets, strengths, their competition and who their market is."
David Fleck, owner of the Howard Johnson Hotel on Main Street, was elected vice chairman of the association. He is proud of being a Niagara Falls businessman.
"It's sort of in my blood," Fleck said. "My family has been in the hotel business since 1923, and we have some trials and tribulations, just like Buffalo."
He said he wants to focus on getting properties cleaned up and market local businesses from Rainbow Boulevard out to Niagara Street. But first, he will just be happy to make sure all the trash is picked up and the new trees and flower pots on Third Street are kept tidy.
"I still feel this whole renaissance [will happen], and the South End Alliance will have some part in that," he said, "even if it's picking up the papers and putting the flowers out for the first year."
The group spent one year meeting before forming an association. As many as 100 people attend meetings, with the average about 60.
There are no dues, and anyone who owns property or a business, even tenants, in the target area -- the South End, or the tourist district -- is already a member.
The seeds of the group started when USA Niagara Development Corp., the state's marketing arm in the city, suggested that business owners consider forming a group to focus on maintaining the physical improvements of the new multimillion-dollar Third Street renovation project, such as flower pots, trees and furniture.
"People that are busy running their businesses, taking care of their families and making payroll, doing all the things an entrepreneur does, they really deserve a lot of credit for taking the time to address these issues," said USA Niagara President Christopher J. Schoepflin.
Other elected officers of the association are: chairman, Dave Faso, manager of Conference Center Niagara Falls; secretary, Frank Smith, owner of Third Street Liquors; and treasurer, Gay B. Molnar, director of development at the Aquarium of Niagara.
Although Mayor Vince Anello said he would like to see the association become a Business Improvement District, which could mean separate assessments for downtown property owners to pay for added services, officers say they want to be cautious at first.
The association's next meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 25 in Conference Center Niagara Falls and is open to the public.