NIAGARA FALLS – Just as the state finally agreed to rip out the Robert Moses Parkway so that tourists and residents can better connect with the Niagara Gorge, state officials are now moving ahead to build a police station – right on the rim of the gorge.
“It’s such a slap in the face to all those people who for years have been fighting, working to try to get this parkway situation resolved,” said Shawn J. Weber, vice chairman of the city’s Tourism Advisory Board.
He said it was “insulting” to the community that the agency made a unilateral decision on the barracks’ location.
State parks officials counter that a concrete barrier sits between the selected site and the gorge, meaning there’s no strong view of the gorge from that location. In addition, the site has been previously disturbed by industrial activities.
The City of Niagara Falls suggested several other parcels, both publicly and privately owned, Mayor Paul A. Dyster said.
But the state instead selected a vacant site it owns behind the Howard Johnson hotel at 454 Main St., just northeast of the Rainbow Bridge. In recent weeks, crews have been working to clear trees from the chosen site.
The current Parks Police Headquarters, located on Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park, is being moved as the state seeks private firms to operate various types of hospitality facilities in the parks.
State officials initially disclosed the selected location in December as part of an announcement outlining $15 million in new projects in the park. That is in addition to $25 million in previously announced work.
Weber said, “It’s beyond my comprehension that they weren’t sitting in meetings saying, ‘We’re going to get a lot of heat for this, but too bad, we’re doing it anyway.’ ”
“The City of Niagara Falls would have preferred an alternative site,” Dyster added.
The new station will be up to 7,000 square feet, about three times the size of the current station on Goat Island, said Mark W. Thomas, regional state parks director. Money for the project was included in the state budget, part of $9 million allocated for work in Niagara Falls State Park. State parks officials would not provide the project’s estimated cost when asked.
Thomas said access to existing infrastructure, and therefore lower costs to develop infrastructure at the site, was one of the considerations in choosing a new location.
Parks officials also wanted sites that offered prime access and space for emergency vehicles to easily move in and out of the park.
The plan received a chilly reaction from some parks officials and members of the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board at the board’s recent meeting.
“There wasn’t another spot to put that?” Lisa A. Vitello, chairwoman of the Tourism Advisory Board, asked parks officials. She said she believes putting a police station at the site is a poor choice from a tourism standpoint, adding that she believes there could be a much better use for the land in the future. The advisory board’s suggestions for the site include an outdoor amphitheater.
Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti said that while she believes the state agency is doing some wonderful things in the parks, she also questioned the logic of putting the police station on the gorge.
“It just didn’t make sense to me because people have worked so hard to get them to agree to take the parkway out and develop our waterfront,” Grandinetti said.
State officials seem eager to get the project going. The state has “very tight timelines” for the project, Thomas said, because of the need to move out of the current police station.
But Weber questioned why such a timeline exists in this case, when there appears to be plenty of sites for a temporary location.
“The way the state moves, they never seem to be under a tight timeline,” he said.
Another option was suggested by the city twice during the process: a parcel located just north of DeFranco Park at Main and Whirlpool streets, across the parkway from the selected site. The city is receiving it from the New York Power Authority as part of the relicensing settlement for the Niagara Power Project.
“When we heard they were finalizing a location on the edge of the gorge, after consulting with some Council members, we offered one site to them that’s very nearby,” Dyster said, acknowledging that the most recent attempt to search for an alternative site “started relatively late in the game.”
State parks officials say they looked at the site as part of their internal review but were told at the time it was not available.
The city had suggested other sites last August, including a former gas station on 10th Street and Buffalo Avenue; another nearby commercial parcel on Buffalo Avenue; the city-owned Porter Park next door, adjacent to the John Daly exit off the Robert Moses Parkway; a site near the Whirlpool Bridge; next to the parks agency’s existing maintenance garage on Buffalo Avenue; a site just north of the Aquarium of Niagara; and the former Adams Transformer House site on Buffalo Avenue, which has recently been talked about as a place to relocate the Nikola Tesla statue from Goat Island.
The city did not hear back from the parks agency until February.