Urban Re-Renewal

14 Dec

Take a vacant mall a block away from one of America’s natural wonders, and turn over 1/3 of it to a culinary institute?

A culinary institute would be a great idea for a vacant mall.  The Summit Park Mall.  The Rainbow Mall, by contrast, really ought to be razed.  It hasn’t been actually used as a proper mall for about a decade, and it’s little more than a concrete Berlin Wall separating the rest of the city from the Falls.  It makes Buffalo’s Adams Mark look good.

It’s typical, isn’t it, that New York makes you pay to see the Falls.  You can drive around Goat Island for free, but even during the denuded winter, you won’t catch a glimpse of water falling over a cliff.  You have to pay to park your car and walk over to the Falls.  On the better-tended Canadian side, you can drive along the brink of the escarpment and see both Falls for free.  If you choose to get out and walk around, you can.  But you don’t have to.

I guess it’s time to concede the fact that people won’t come to the New York side to check out the Falls partly because we have our hand out and don’t make it easy.  Canadians do, however, come to the American side in their millions to go shopping.  So, let’s embrace that and make it easy for them to cross, to park, to shop, and to see the Falls if they choose to.

The Wintergarden is gone, so should its adjacent “mall”.  The areas in yellow are frankly a waste.  For people to walk from the Falls to the Seneca’s casino, they get to walk between some déclassé hotels  and the side of a “convention center”.  There’s nothing to stop and do along the way.  Just a pretty cobbled path to go spend some money at a Seneca exclave. Everything in the area in yellow, bounded for the most part by Niagara Street, Rainbow Boulevard, and 3rd Street, is either a waste of that space or second-class, and we have mid-20th-century urban renewal ideas to thank for that.  60 years ago, that area was a pretty thriving downtown.  The cost?  The Niagara Community Forum breaks it down:

Hooker (glass cube) Headquarters $13,200,000
Currently empty from the 3 to 9th floor

Convention Center $43,000,000
Never lived up to expectations
Taken over by Seneca Casino

Falls Street Faire/Falls Street Station $23,000,000
Used briefly. Falls Street Faire was redone into
a Conference Center for an additional 18Million.
Falls Street Station is partially occupied by TeleTech

Splash Park $12,000,000
Part of Niagara Venture (Falls St. Faire, Falls St. Station,
And Niagara Splash Park). Used as a parking lot by the
Seneca Casino.

Wintergarden $7,800,000
Torn down. Once separated Falls Street East and West.

Turtle $4,000,000
Native American Center. Currently unused.

Rainbow Centre and Parking Ramp $12,000,000
Centre currently empty. Ramp never solvent.

City Parking Ramp $3,400,000
Gone. Surface parking lot.

A failure, by any measure.  First off, I would ban surface parking lots from the area in yellow.  That means you, Comfort Inn.  A few new and modern, intelligently placed parking garages should be constructed to serve that area.  Then, as the Niagara Community Forum suggests, the area in yellow should be transformed into an area where people would want to frankly come and drop some money.  The outlets on Military Avenue may have some great shopping, but remember that Canadians will drive all the way down to Cheektowaga to shop, as well.  Restoration of the original city grid would be a good start, and Paladino’s condo tower can be sort of an anchor for the whole project.

Frankly, what’s needed is something that competes with Canal Side.  A bit flashy, but more low-key than the cheese of, say, Clifton Hill.

(Photograph from National Harbor, MD)

(Also, why exactly isn’t Niagara Falls State Park a National Park?)

24 Responses to “Urban Re-Renewal”

  1. kris December 14, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    This has nothing to do with your post but I used to love going to the wintergarden & “festival of lights” when I was a kid (early-mid 80s). My Mom used to take me & my sister – it was fun and busy. The rainbow mall still had shops & it was a cool destination. It is amazing how quickly it slipped into oblivion.

  2. Brian Castner December 14, 2009 at 11:12 am #

    Niagara Falls, NY – making Buffalo look competent since 1958.

  3. mike hudson December 14, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    niagara falls isn’t a national park because they made it a state park before they had national parks. new york clings to it for dear life because the parking revenues pay for other parks throughout the state, which has — surprise — way too many state parks.

    btw, the state actually PAYS the glynn family here to run the maid of the mist concession, so it loses money there, despite the fact that millions of tourists cough up tens of millions of dollars each and every year to ride the damn thing.

  4. STEEL December 14, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    I agree with you on putting the cooking school in the mall – dumb – it shows a lack of imagination and leadership. The current state of NF NY is a massive embarrassment. The place should be a gold mine instead of a money pit.

  5. Pete at BuffaloStuff December 14, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    It’s actually more like desparation that allows for decisions like the culinary institute in the old mall. they are desparate to get ANY development going on. I feel like Buffalo is in the same boat. Niagara Falls has been wallowing for longer. Too bad. If I had the money, I would like to buy the whole city and then make it work.

  6. mike hudson December 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    the fact is that, because of the state and local governments, even owning the property is no guarantee you can do what you want with it. mayor paul dyster, owner of of less than successful retail establishment outside the city, had this to say about new businesses coming into the city in this morning’s buffalo news:

    “It’s almost never the case we say ‘yes’ to the initial proposal,” Dyster said.

  7. mike December 14, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    sure hudson, lets let the NFR buy the land, then we can just have empty lots with weeds growing. Too many state parks? how many have you ever been to hudson? Its one of the few good things about our state.

  8. Leonard Sawicki December 14, 2009 at 3:06 pm #

    Alan,
    We were at National Harbor, Md. last weekend. It is new, clean,exciting, and thriving – and mostly privately built. I hate to be a naysayer, but I don’t ever see a project like this coming in our area. Where do I begin ? The door slam in the face from city hall, the sickening taxes, everybody and there brother wanting there hand in the pot.

  9. FancyWow December 14, 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    National Harbor is non-comparable

    It is a retail Disneyland built from scratch. Behind the hills looming in the distance is one of the poorest areas in the DC Metro, but folks are too distracted by the water (and seperated by the maze of raods and said hills) to know. It’s a master planned, phased development that’s not subject to the whims of disparate landowners, differentiated zoning, or existant infrastructure – it’s actually pretty lame. AND nothing like have a convention where you’re arduously apart from the distracts and the sights that make DC important.

  10. mike hudson December 14, 2009 at 8:24 pm #

    that’s great you like them, mike. visit them often. many are nothing but roadside pullovers with a couple of picnic tables and an outhouse. you’re paying for the the landscaping, maintenance and tax exemption on these, which are usually appropriately named after some hack albany politician.

    there are 215 state parks and historical sites, more than 3-1/2 for each of new york’s 62 counties, and the vast majority of them don’t generate a nickle of revenue to offset those costs.

    in other words, as with the power authority, a niagara county asset is being used to subisdize costly operations in the rest of the state, leaving the county and especially the city of niagara falls, virtually bankrupt.

    so it’s good you like it, asshole, because there’s nothing you could do about it anyway.

  11. mike December 14, 2009 at 9:16 pm #

    Do you mean nickel? Well how much revenue do those empty lots your pals at the NFR generate? I much rather have a nice camp ground with affordable cabins for rent. At least the mayor is keeping that slime ball sloma out of the city. sloma’s the new ‘don’ of niagara county, but I bet you will never write about that, its easier to pick on artists. How dare you slam the NACC and then donate a whole page to last weekends nutcracker. Oh how funny that judies lounge gets four stars but shimmy shacks was trashed, its not because they refuse to carry your rag is it?

  12. mike hudson December 14, 2009 at 10:34 pm #

    so you didn’t actually want to talk about the topic under discussion at all, eh? i am shocked. you really wanted to diss the paper. again, i am shocked. you’ve only been doing that now for about five years.

    if you think it’s a great idea for the state to own/control nearly all of the most valuable real estate in the city, you must be happy, because they do. as pundit suggested, the culinary institute is perhaps the most moronic use of that property imaginable.

    btw, more people went to see “the nutcracker” ballet last weekend than will visit the nacc this year. and, while the nacc has cost taxpayers more than a million dollars in repairs, plus another three or four million in lost tax revenue since it opened, “the nutcracker” has undertaken it’s yearly performance schedule for more than 20 years without sucking at the public teat at all.

  13. Ike December 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    this is one of your best posts ever, alan…kudos

  14. mike December 14, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    what an idiot, first of all the ‘nut’ is in its 32 year, Feder’s studio is in the nacc and Dr. Feder fought tooth and nail to keep the building from becoming another benderson fugly walgreens when he was in the legislature. I love how you lived here for 10 years and think you know everything. show me one thing NFR has done for the city?

  15. Dave December 15, 2009 at 12:32 am #

    Mike and Mike – will you both please, please just STFU? You both had good points to make, but the tantrums and shit-slinging have gotten old. You noticed that there aren’t as many people posting here as there used to be… we’re all tired of the personal attacks. If you can’t keep it down, at least make it interesting….

  16. mike hudson December 15, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    according to gawker, one hasn’t really “made it” in the media business until one has his or her own insanely obsessed stalker. so i guess i’ve made it.

    if by nfr you mean niagara falls reporter, why, we raised $58,000 for community missions this year, our reporting led to the rescinding of the glynn family’s no-bid monopoly in ontario (new york to follow) and we provided morons like you 51 issues of something to obsess about. just wait till next year!

  17. Alan Bedenko December 15, 2009 at 9:55 am #

    I am kindly asking mike and Mike Hudson to cut it out. I realize that mike is baiting Hudson, and I’d like it to stop. Dave is right – people are tired of the shit-slinging on here, and I want the comments to be a place for discussion rather than flamewars. Seriously.

    I’m to the point where I’m considering throwing all comments through moderation, or perhaps even shutting them down altogether like Sullivan does. At least until we develop a new system.

    Please. Thanks.

  18. mike December 15, 2009 at 10:56 am #

    Oh I’m sorry. Every “state park” charges for parking. Why don’t you bitch about Beaver Island? Or you could just buy an empire pass and use all the state parks for free. But any way I work very hard trying to make Niagara Falls a better place and having a bunch of pencil necked geeks ripping into it every chance they get makes me sick.

    • Alan Bedenko December 15, 2009 at 11:02 am #

      You’re right, they do. But that’s somewhat beside the point. I noted that public and private entities also charge for parking across the river. It’s not about parking, per se. It’s about a failed vision and implementation of the near-falls area. It’d be very nice if the money and effort and planning of that part of the city could be a bit more involved than piecemeal small-time fixes here and there. If I were the city, I’d have taken Cordish to court by now for his contractual breach and razed the Rainbow Centre.

  19. Gabe December 15, 2009 at 1:31 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about that area in yellow for quite some time now. A sane, methodical redevelopment project could really turn that area into an awesome destination. That tourist trap across the gorge is not much more than a cheesy assemblage of movie set facades. The parcel in question would look awesome if cut up into a human-scaled street grid and lined with a collection of small buildings one would find in a small European town center. How to make it happen:

    1. Draw up a grid of narrow streets and lanes…designate one as the main shopping drag.
    2. Divide up the new street frontages into lots that are mostly 18-20 feet wide. Few should be wider than 30 feet…important corner lots can be a bit wider to accommodate larger buildings.
    3. Architecture/Design code: All buildings much touch one another. Buildings must be at least two stories, they may not exceed 5. All proposed buildings must be evaluated by design board to ensure that a basic aesthetic vision is adhered to.
    4. Destroy even fucking worthless piece of garbage that currently occupies the yellow zone.
    5. Legalize weed and prostitution.
    6. Watch this totally awesome faux-historic, Euro-scaled destination miraculously spring forth from the Earth.
    7. Walk the beautiful new streets, get stoned, go window shopping/get laid for money.

  20. mike hudson December 15, 2009 at 5:15 pm #

    cordish’s end is $5 million a year.

  21. mike hudson December 15, 2009 at 5:20 pm #

    alan…i agree with dave and you 1000 percent. this has been going on way too long with this guy, and it transcends anything i happen to post about. my nefore christmas new year’s resolution is that i will never again responded to anything fake “mike” has to say.

  22. mike hudson December 15, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    before, of course.

    and respond.

    long day.

  23. Dan Davis December 15, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    Thank you for using my post and mentioning Niagara Community Forum. If only we could get this kind of response, we might actually make our civic leaders sit up and take notice. Feel free to add the site to your Buffalo sites.

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