By Joseph Lettieri
Everybody knows Niagara Falls. And sooner or later, virtually many of them visit the world wonder.
When he saw the falls, John Quincy Adams thought they symbolized democracy’s perpetual motion. W.E.B Du Bois felt they reflected the hand of God. Photographer Annie Liebovitz was mesmerized by the water’s color.
Winston Churchill once traveled by train from Franklin Roosevelt’s Hudson Valley home just so to spend an hour listening to its roar. So moved was Abraham Lincoln, he wrote a poem in tribute to mighty Niagara, which he kept in his pocket the rest of his life. And, viewing the falls from the America side, Elvis Presley turned to a friend and said he wished he’d brought his mom along to see them.
According to Niagara Economic Development, 12.9 million tourists visited Niagara Falls in 2017, pumping $2.4 billion into the local economy. Almost 5 million of those visitors stayed overnight, contributing $1.7 billion.
Yet, as robust as Niagara’s worldwide brand is, it appears not strong enough to share its tourism dollars with the City of Buffalo. Indeed, after decades of efforts to bring Niagara Falls visitors to Buffalo, statistics reveal that our city and all its amenities are rarely experienced by those who visit the northern part of our region.
Some 20 years ago, an effort was mounted to view Western New York as one economic unit rather than a collection of competing municipalities. Led by Kevin Gaughan, this regionalism movement contends that economies are regional, not local, and thus businesses from Dunkirk and Orchard Park to Buffalo and Lockport should collaborate, not compete, with each other. The movement resulted in an agreement to brand ourselves the Buffalo Niagara region.
But in light of Buffalo’s poor track record in capturing Niagara Falls’ visitors, and in an effort to build on and sustain our city’s economic resurgence, maybe we should consider altering our line-up. Should we change our name to the Niagara Falls-Buffalo region?
Doing so would help educate geographically-challenged people that Niagara and Buffalo are one. As well, it might increase the number of people who, when they plan their Niagara Falls vacation, also take a peek at what’s to do in Buffalo.
From Canalside to Larkinville, Buffalo has recently done a great job in development. But development does not guarantee growth. Increasing our tourist visitors will help increase our permanent population – by getting folks here to at least see what we offer.
Whether or not we change, let’s have a public discussion on how best to maximize our regional brand. Nothing but good will come from it.
Joseph Lettieri is a Buffalo preservationist. He and his wife, Ellen, are the owners of Inn Buffalo in the Elmwood Village.