NIAGARA FALLS – State officials announced Sunday that work is being suspended on a new State Park Police station that would overlook the Niagara Gorge.
Sam Hoyt, local head of Empire State Development Corp., and Randy Simons, spokesman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said a renewed but indefinite period of seeking public input will begin.
“A new location is certainly among the options that will be considered,” Hoyt said.
But Simons said the state is not committing to a different location of the new police station. Ground has been broken on a parcel of state-owned land behind the Howard Johnson’s at 454 Main St., just northeast of the Rainbow Bridge.
“We want to make sure there’s an opportunity for anyone who has anything to say, to say it,” Hoyt said.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he thinks that after the outcry of the last week, a new site for the police station is a virtual certainty.
“I can’t imagine there would be a decision to continue the construction,” Dyster said.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he agrees with Dyster that a different location is almost certain to be chosen. “This was the worst of all options,” Maziarz said.
He and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, sent a letter to State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey on Friday, asking for work to be stopped and the location reconsidered.
After receiving the news Sunday, Maziarz said, “Good move. I’m very pleased about it. I talked to the commissioner late Friday, after sending the letter. I think calling a timeout is a very positive step.”
“We’ve been trying to get the development into the city rather than the park,” Ceretto said. “It’s kind of rewarding the state is taking a step back and listening the people of the area.”
“That’s fabulous,” said Lisa A. Vitello, chairwoman of the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board. “It’s good news they are considering the views of the public.”
The new police station is part of a $15 million package of construction projects in and near Niagara Falls State Park, announced in December.
“In December and January, we thought everyone was fine with it,” Simons said.
Hoyt said, “Beyond public meetings, there were meetings with individual leaders, including mayors, state assemblymen, state senators. Nothing was done in a vacuum.”
Vitello said she attended a daytime meeting State Parks held about the package Dec. 9. She said it was attended by about half a dozen people.
“There was no mention of putting a 7,000-square-foot building in the middle of the gorge (view),” she said.
Hoyt contended, “I think we had a very robust and comprehensive public outreach effort.” Simons said the law didn’t require State Parks to hold any public meetings at all.
Vitello said the Tourism Advisory Committee is going ahead with its plan to hold a meeting at 6 p.m. today at the site behind Howard Johnson’s.
Dyster said placing the police station almost on the gorge rim flies in the face of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to revitalize the state park by emphasizing its natural advantages over what is conceded to be the superior panoramic view of the Falls from the Canadian side.
“I think the location of the station was an anomaly in what is otherwise a very positive strategy,” Dyster said.
He and Maziarz agreed that placing the police station off Main Street ran counter to the notion of opening up public access to the gorge, exemplified by the long-running effort to remove the Robert Moses Parkway between Main Street and Findlay Drive.
“It’s something that people have devoted their whole lives to. It’s the issue that got me into public life,” Dyster said.
He added, “We’re committed to a program of naturalization,” and the location behind Howard Johnson’s “stuck out like a sore thumb.”
Dyster told The Buffalo News last week that the city had proposed several other possible locations for the police station.
Sunday, he said his favorite is a parcel the New York Power Authority is giving the city under terms of the Niagara Power Project’s 2005 relicensing. It’s just north of DeFranco Park, on the opposite side of the parkway.
Dyster said it’s “a couple hundred yards” from the site the state had selected, but not close enough to the gorge to interfere with the view.
He said the police agency needs a location near the park and gorge because its officers often have to deal with people in trouble in the gorge or the edge of the water. “We want them to be able to get to all points as quickly as possible,” Hoyt said.
The mayor said, “I can’t imagine there aren’t any operational considerations facing the State Parks Police that couldn’t be solved on that alternative site.”
Simons said remedial work on the Main Street site may have to continue. He said the parcel is a former industrial landfill and later was used for a new-closed exit ramp from the Robert Moses Parkway.
“There are materials in the ground we want to get out of there,” he said.
But, Simons added, “Anything that would progress the state police station is suspended.”
Hoyt said the state wants to move the current police station, located on Goat Island, because the land there is needed for a planned expansion of the Cave of the Winds, one of the Falls’ most popular and durable tourist attractions.
Any new site might cause a delay in the work, Hoyt said, because the schedule “would have to include time for environmental tests.”