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Does Robert Moses need to be in his parkway’s name? State Senate says no

NIAGARA FALLS – If you are trying to attract tourists to the grandeur of Niagara Falls, Robert Moses may not be your brand.

Not many people outside urban planning circles know who he is. And even they don’t like him.

That is why there is local movement to strip his name from the parkway that offers beautiful vistas of the Niagara River from Niagara Falls to Youngstown. They want to rename it the Niagara Scenic Parkway.

“The name Robert Moses means little to tourists, and is no longer descriptive of today’s purpose of informing visitors this roadway will take you to the prime viewing areas,” the Niagara County Legislature pronounced March 1.

That view is shared by the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.

“Anything that makes wayfinding easier for your visitors is always welcome, and having the word ‘Niagara’ would obviously make it easier for our tourists and our visitors coming to this area to know they are headed in the right direction,” said Andrea Czopp, the communications manager.

“I don’t see any real advantage in keeping Robert Moses’ name,” Czopp added.

The State Senate passed a bill last week to rename the Robert Moses Parkway. The name change was requested after the Niagara County Legislature said the existing name provides no tourism value. Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, D-Lewiston, said he intends to sponsor a bill in the Assembly to change the parkway’s name.

Patrick Kaler, Visit Buffalo Niagara’s president, also sees value in rebranding the parkway.

“Changing the name is a great development for the region’s tourism industry,” Kaler said. “The new name implies the type of experience visitors can have along the parkway. The route straddles some of the most stunning scenery in Western New York. Niagara Scenic Parkway is a name instantly recognizable to visitors, as opposed to Robert Moses, who younger generations may not be familiar with.”

But some say the Moses name should remain, even though he is frequently condemned for his role as an architect of the urban renewal of the 1950s and ’60s now discredited by urban planners.

“The literature on travel, where it concerns millennials and baby boomers, shows they are looking for authenticity,” said Dan Fesenmaier, who directs the University of Florida’s National Laboratory for Tourism and eCommerce. “If Niagara is only the river, fantastic, but if you want to express more about the cultural history and heritage related to the river, than talking only about the river is not what you want to do, and Moses is part of that history.”

Taking the name of the “master builder” off the parkway will please some residents of the region. The name change was first proposed by Lewiston resident Mamie Simonson, whose Whirlpool Street home in Niagara Falls was demolished in 1959 to make way for the parkway.

The County Legislature resolution said the proposed name change to Niagara Scenic Parkway was endorsed strongly in an online survey by the Historical Association of Lewiston.

Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, the bill’s sponsor, said the new name is more appealing and advantageous to promoting the region. Few people today, he said, know who Moses was.

“I think the feeling was, amongst the localities, that changing the name to the Niagara Scenic Parkway is more in line with what we’re trying to promote, which is Niagara and Niagara County and Niagara Falls,” Ortt said.

Moses’ name was added to the 18.4-mile state highway parkway in 1960.

The Senate bill passed on the same day that Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster held a news conference urging the Federal Highway Administration to start removing the portion of the parkway that borders the Niagara River Gorge, between downtown Niagara Falls and Findlay Drive near the Lewiston-Niagara Falls border.

Both Dyster and Higgins called removal of the north end of the parkway a way to transform Niagara Falls. Dyster blamed the route of the parkway for “ushering in an era of unprecedented urban decline and decay.”

Higgins argued that the New York Power Authority – which planned and built the parkway, evicted homeowners in the process and owns the land – bears responsibility for financing the project and “righting a historic wrong.”

The New York Power Authority has committed to funding the design costs and 70 percent of the construction costs for removal of the north parkway.

But Higgins said the draft design report is unnecessarily stalled. He is pressing the Federal Highway Administration to begin the lengthy review process, even though a brief amount of field work remains.

With the Power Authority providing most of the money, the federal government should be accelerating the Robert Moses Parkway North project, not delaying it, he said.

Public scoping began in 2013 on the project, which involves removing the parkway and reconstructing Whirlpool Street between Main and Findlay.

Final design is slated to be completed this year, followed by bid solicitation. Construction is set to begin next year.

The Robert Moses Parkway South Riverway project is under construction, including a new roundabout at the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park.

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