It’s no wonder Daniel Davis viewed the state’s attempt to build a Parks Police station on the rim of the Niagara Gorge as “arrogant, insensitive and arbitrary.”
Davis was a young man, in the service and away from his hometown, when Robert Moses bulldozed his way through the City of Niagara Falls to create a parkway that whisked visitors into the state park, isolating the city from the gorge.
In the decades since, Davis returned home, raised a family, retired and took up blogging about what ails the Falls. But that much-detested stretch of parkway – aside from a short strip removed in the ’70s – stands testament to just how hard it can be to undo a bullheaded decision.
State Parks came close to making another one.
Public outcry pushed parks administrators to suspend their plan to construct a new police station on a slice of vacant land near the rim of the gorge last week. It seemed nobody but state officials wanted the building on the land. Residents started a petition. The city offered alternative sites. State lawmakers wrote letters.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the controversy: State officials said they would stop to listen.
It’s a good first step. Those hoping to persuade State Parks to go in another direction – including Mayor Paul Dyster, state Sen. George Maziarz and Rep. Brian Higgins – appear likely to persuade the agency.
Davis and other residents have raised good questions about why the state would choose to build a police station on vacant land near the gorge at the very same time it is finally moving forward with plans to reconnect the city to the natural chasm by removing a stretch of parkway.
“It pretty much gobbles up that whole space,” Davis said of the proposed police station and surrounding parking.
Even more baffling to Davis is the state’s seeming disregard for the city’s long-standing vision to turn the land along the gorge into a “cultural district” once the parkway is removed.
The idea – set out in the city’s comprehensive plan – is to expand on attractions already in the neighborhood, including the Aquarium of Niagara and the state’s Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, to create a “destination of regional significance” along the city’s waterfront.
It’s not that state officials aren’t aware of the idea. A contest created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to offer $40 million from the Buffalo Billion and city casino funds in a “development challenge” requires that private proposals be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.
What good will it do to dump millions of public money into private projects if a state parks police station is gobbling up land in the very same area the city and state are desperately trying to transform?
The state has gone a long way in recent years to unwind the history of overbearing left by Robert Moses and his parkway, but it has a ways to go.
When he dedicated the parkway in 1964, Moses, then a former chairman of the Power Authority and State Council of Parks, was quoted in the New York Times as citing the “unremitting effort, courage” and “stubbornness” it had taken to overcome “obstructionists.”
Sometimes, history has shown, it’s worth listening to those objections.