Niagara Gazette

February 25, 2013

CITY DESK: Rip it and leave it

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The road's not even gone yet and some are already talking about building on the land where it sits. 

I'm speaking, of course, of the Robert Moses Parkway — the four-lane, Niagara Gorge-front highway that has divided this end of Niagara County for years. 

During a press conference last week where officials discussed the three remaining alternatives for the controversial stretch of road, some officials said they wouldn't mind letting private interests have a crack at the land once removal from downtown to Findlay Drive moves forward. 

With all due respect, that's the last thing the city needs.

It's taken years and more knock-down, drag-out arguments than I care to remember to get state parks to the point where it has finally agreed to get rid of at least part of the parkway's northern section. 

The "compromise" solution, while not satisfactory to the pro-environment, anti-parkway faction, does represent — finally, after all these years — some semblance of progress in the age-old tug-of-road. 

For those who think the soon-to-be-parkway-less area would make for prime development real estate, think back to why the push for removal got started in the first place.

Tearing out four lanes of highway next to one of the great natural gifts in all the world gained traction mainly because most people in their right minds not named Robert Moses would never have built a four-lane highway next to one of the great natural gifts in all the world in the first place.

Replacing all the concrete that's there now with more concrete — the vertical kind — would defeat the purpose.

Canada has skyscrapers obstructing its gorge view. 

That doesn't mean we should attempt to follow its lead. 

Our side should be the place where the visitors come to not only see the Falls, but experience the natural setting surrounding it. 

Chances are visitors from other parts of the country and even the world, especially those from bigger cities, have skyscrapers and high-rises back home. The ones who come from distant lands (I'm not talking regional casino-goers here) have a vision of the Falls before they arrive.

Their experiences with the waterfall itself — be it at the state park or on the Maid of the Mist boat ride or whatever — shape their memories and serve as our best form of advertising to their friends and family members back home. 

They don't come to see four-lane highways. They don't come to sit in hotels. Seen one casino, seen 'em all. 

The Falls? Now that's a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Niagara Gorge — done right — can be the sort of oasis from the real world visitors from faster-paced communities crave. 

Visited Buffalo lately? 

The city's new-look waterfront is a vast improvement over what's been there for years, and it's only going to get better. It started with improved access, a willingness to open up the land nearest to the water to the people who were just aching to use it. 

Development — including proposals by Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and developer Carl Paladino — are now beginning to follow, where they belong, more inland.

As anyone can plainly see in Niagara Falls, there's no shortage of vacant property downtown. In some areas, it's like pulling into an amusement park only to find all the rides have been closed for repairs: Plenty of space, no waiting. 

That's where our building should be done — in the city's interior, away from the state park and the river's edge. 

You don't have to go far. The space owned by one developer in particular — Niagara Falls Redevelopment's Howard Milstein —comes immediately to mind. Other parcels exist as well, especially along Main Street.

Build up downtown. Build the buildings tall, high enough for the high-end customers to get the penthouse view of the Falls they so crave. 

Whatever you do, don't build high-rise monstrosities next to the water. 

That's the lower-rent district, the place where families who can't afford the upper floors should be allowed to take their kids so they can breath it up and take it all in. 

Moses' four-lane, gorge-front highway — while convenient for some — disconnected this community from its most vital resource for decades. 

The state of New York is finally about to give part of it back. 

When the work's finally done, let residents and visitors enjoy the finished product the way nature intended — outdoors, without paved roads or concrete walls.