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By Howard Zemsky

Finally, there are real opportunities for positive change on the horizon in Niagara Falls that have the potential to expand the entire experience of visiting our world-famous natural wonder. Many people have chosen to embrace a new attitude and way of thinking about the Cataract City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is leading the way by recognizing that investments that support tourism in the Falls will be the key to turning the city around. He has identified tourism – specifically in Niagara Falls – as one of the three top sectors the Buffalo Billion initiative must focus upon if Western New York is to grow and prosper.

Through this initiative we are working to leverage an unparalleled base of natural and cultural assets in a more systematic, creative and collaborative manner. It is understood that new hotels, restaurants and attractions are needed.

The shift toward a more attractive destination begins with a few high-quality projects that will define the business landscape and encourage future development. Just last week, a $25-million mixed-use project by the Hamister Development Co. was approved. Consisting of an upscale hotel, apartments and prime retail space, it is exactly the type of project we need to attract people to Niagara Falls.

We’re already seeing improvements at Niagara Falls State Park. We have been fortunate to be able to maintain Olmsted’s vision of creating and preserving this extraordinary natural reserve around the falls. We’re also embarking on a major new initiative to enhance the state park and the Niagara Gorge to tap into an extensive outdoor recreation economy.

In the city’s downtown, we have successfully converted a third of the former Rainbow Centre Mall – long a symbol of failed projects – into the gleaming new Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, which offers visitors a unique opportunity to dine on an exquisite multicourse meal and then learn how to prepare it themselves.

Developers are already competing to put their best ideas forward for transforming the balance of the mall into a vital mixed-use space to better provide our 8 million annual visitors with quality services and entertainment.

Just down the road, the Maid of the Mist has found a permanent winter storage location on the U.S. side, which will open opportunities for a variety of future visitor experiences, such as rock climbing, rappelling and historic interpretation.

Thanks to Cuomo’s commitment and the state’s focus, there’s no doubt that this region has immense potential. These projects are only the beginning. We can generate a new and improved reputation. The first step is seeing and believing that change is possible.

Howard Zemsky is co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Development Council.