Western New York has fallen short of its potential in many economic sectors, but considering the resources the region provides to each, no failure is more disturbing than that of the tourism industry.
With bragging rights to one of the world's premier attractions, basic competence should be enough to ensure a healthy industry. But Niagara Falls has squandered its famous resource in world-class fashion. Maybe that will change as New York's new governor-in-waiting sets his agenda.
For the past four years, a visionary group of people has been trying to inject a $100 million dose of energy into the city's tourism industry, via an 81,000-square-foot, high-tech museum that could draw visitors from around the region -- and especially from across the river. After the falls, themselves, the proposed Niagara Experience Center could quickly become the place to go in either of these cities, at least for those not intent on gambling.
The center would tell a more complete tale of the remarkable Niagara region than visitors can get any other place, and do it in a compelling way. Features would include displays on the formation of the falls, and regional history on such topics as Native American orator Red Jacket and the competition between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla over electrical generation. The region's role in the Underground Railroad also would be presented.
Perhaps most interesting is a proposed "Wild Niagara" film using a motion simulator and spherical projection to take viewers on a virtual hang-gliding ride over the falls and into the underappreciated but endlessly fascinating Niagara River Gorge.
This could be the big bang of a resurrected tourism industry in Western New York, with information on other regional attractions to be offered. Managed properly, it would also complement the proposed Niagara River Greenway, perhaps even serve as its hub. But first, the money.
Outgoing Gov. George E. Pataki has committed $10 million, and two local foundations have ponied up $145,000 for urban planning, site evaluation and program building. Tens of millions more dollars are needed, and that is where Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer comes in.
Spitzer gave the proposal an enthusiastic endorsement just before the September election primary. "Niagara Falls needs some world-class attractions that will give people a reason to stay on the U.S. side once they have visited the state park," he told The Buffalo News. "If elected governor, I would continue to work with USA Niagara [an arm of the state's main development agency] and with the people of Niagara Falls to move this project forward."
Starting Jan 1., Spitzer will have his chance. Under the best of circumstances, the project will take years to complete, but there's no time like the present to get started. We commend it to the governor-elect's attention.