By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Shame on those for allowing a couple of properties within walking distance of the nation’s oldest state park to deteriorate to skid row status. There’s plenty of blame to share.
The land in question borders Niagara and Third streets, next to the Bank of America. Originally owned by the former Niagara County Savings Bank, then under the astute management of the late Jack Orr, the site included an impressive tower clock that also updated the temperature, a small amphitheater, clean benches and a fountain that eventually fell victim to vandals. Not long after it was dedicated, derelicts started to camp out in the shed mostly hidden from passersby at the busy intersection. Sensitive to its location — two blocks from the state park and the Rainbow Bridge — Orr tried hard to maintain the premises but the once picturesque parcel was doomed by littering, relentless vandalism, and people just hanging out until the bars opened. It was indeed a blotch on the welcome mat here. Before long, it became known as ‘Bums Park,’ appropriate for the stench, high weeds and grimy fountain clogged with debris and soap suds.
Subsequently, the two connected parcels were purchased by the DiCienzo family of Niagara Falls, Ont., with plans for a hotel that never came to fruition. Operating as the Canadian Niagara Hotels developer, the DiCienzos own eight hotels on the Canadian side, plus the Rainforest Cafe, Planet Hollywood and the sprawling complex that includes Casino Niagara, opposite the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge. Under attack for ignoring the site, the DiCienzos agreed to pay a group of volunteers on this side of the river to cut the grass, pull the weeds and add some plantings. Again, for a number of reasons, that wasn’t an answer.
The DiCienzos, who also own the downtown Days Inn and the Sheraton at the Falls (the former Crowne Plaza hotel) are committed to investments estimated at $50 million for hotels and attractions on this side of the border. Mayor Paul Dyster is quick to note they have a huge commitment in this Cataract City and they don’t intend to walk away from their obligations.
For the record, Bums Park hasn’t changed much. Today it looks a lot like it did 20 years ago: the red brick walkway heaved to the point where someone could easily be injured; the rusted out base and dangling wires for that once attractive vintage clock; the filthy fountains filled with dirt; graffito on the shed where an occasional drifter tries to sleep; and in some spots, offensive odors for anyone strolling by.
If no one is really serious about improving this ugly scene, perhaps some philanthropic-minded citizen will spring for a roll of crime tape to seal the premises. It just might prevent someone from falling into the fountain and swallowing too much soil. Or even worse, tripping over the red brick path and breaking a leg. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.
ACROSS THE BORDER: Item: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is caught on video appearing to smoke cocaine.”That’s ridiculous,” he says. Still, it’s not too far off the mark for a guy known to show up impaired at public functions, who reportedly pinched a woman in the buttocks during a cocktail reception, who texts while driving, and who used the resources of his high office to help his son’s footballl team. And who can forget that ultimate gesture of defiance that Ford gave to another motorist while waiting for a light to change in downtown Toronto. What a guy!
ON THE GO: Area baseball fans headed to a Blue Jays’ game at Rogers Centre, Toronto, can save money and lots of time by taking the GO Train from Burlington, Ont., to Union Station, a short walk from the stadium.
CO-ED SLAIN: Hofstra University students are mourning the loss of Andrea Rebello, 21, a beautiful sorority student, who was gunned down by a masked man invading her home near the campus on Long Island. Cops shot and killed the gunman.
If Hofstra sounds familiar, the Hempstead, N.Y., school recently hired longtime Niagara University basketball coach Joe Mihalich as its head coach.
HEALTHY FOODS: Overheard at the Market Side Restaurant in the City Market: “I’ve been on a 30-day diet and so far I’ve lost 13 days” — a customer discussing her weight challenge.
QUICKIE QUIZ: Answer to Thursday’s question: Ambergs. One former customer said he remembers a high-pressued salesman chasing him out to the bus stop to see if he would change his mind about buying a suit.
Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246