Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo likes spurring economic development and growth in once-moribund cities like Buffalo. His challenge now is replicating that success in other cities, Niagara Falls in particular.
Of course, the governor cannot do all the work. But he can offer the catalyst needed to get cities off the mat. That is exactly what he has done the past several years with the Buffalo Billion, followed up by other initiatives and most recently by the proposed Buffalo Billion II.
So when he showed up in Niagara Falls the other day to cut a ribbon on the $37 million DoubleTree by Hilton, a 191-room hotel at 401 Buffalo Ave., Mayor Paul A. Dyster made a statement that reflected what the audience must have felt: “Anytime Gov. Cuomo comes to Niagara Falls, it means good news.”
Niagara Falls is home to one of the world’s greatest natural assets. And, as The News’ David Robinson pointed out in a recent column, the focus on improving the American side is appropriately green. Millions of tourists who visit each year – increasing numbers of millennials among them – associate Niagara Falls with green space.
Empire State Development President and CEO Howard A. Zemsky, in explaining the state’s economic development strategy, made clear that Niagara Falls has always been a key focus. Changes to the parkway that once separated residents and visitors from the river have led to new hotels along what is now known as the Niagara Scenic Parkway.
The DoubleTree, by Faisal Merani’s Merani Hotel Group, is the third hotel within walking distance of the new Riverway project to open since the governor announced funding to remove a section of the former Robert Moses Parkway. A fourth hotel is about to open, a Courtyard by Marriott.
Another primary goal of the tourism work involved upgrading state park infrastructure. More than $70 million has already been spent improving Luna Island, Terrapin Point, Three Sisters Islands, Cave of the Winds and other park facilities.
Going forward, the state is reimagining and reclaiming the rim of the gorge below the falls. Zemsky appropriately called it “the greatest recapture of green space since Frederick Law Olmsted” – the man who designed the park more than 125 years ago.
Add to that hoped-for redevelopment of vacant land owned by Niagara Falls Redevelopment, construction of a tourism lodge on Goat Island and more recreational opportunities in the state park.
The governor’s mandate for Empire State Development to step up to reclaim some of the city’s unused land is music to the ears of anyone tired of watching properties deteriorate and valuable land lie fallow.
And there are the jobs. Zemsky said about 5,000 jobs could be created in Niagara Falls if the various projects persuade tourists to stay longer on the American side.
Niagara Falls is looking better, with the best still to come.