Columnist Don Glynn recently criticized me for “diverting traffic” away from the Niagara Falls State Park’s parking lot.
Comparing me to circus showman, P.T. Barnum, famed for his quip, “There is a sucker born every minute,” Glynn calls me the “Barnum of Rainbow Blvd.”
Ironic, too, as, for a long time, the state park has made suckers out of this city.
But Glynn writes “Parlato (is) an expert at diverting traffic from entering” the Niagara Falls State Park, which Glynn misleadingly, and, frequently, calls “an Olmsted Park.”
True, Frederick Law Olmsted, the nation’s most famous park designer, persuaded NY to create America’s first state park here. The “State Reservation of Niagara” was established in 1886 and, at first, operated under Olmsted’s carefully designed plan.
By the mid-20th century, things changed. It was around the time Robert Moses planned the theft of our hydro-power, claiming the New York Power Authority would preserve our prosperity better than by having local control of the world’s greatest hydro-power. (In 1957, we had the most inexpensive electricity in the nation. After 51 years of Albany control, Niagara Falls residents now pay the third-highest rates in the USA.)
Meanwhile, Albany changed the park’s name from the “State Reservation of Niagara” to the “Niagara Falls State Park.” Other changes followed: Olmsted’s design was one of nature almost completely untouched.
“It may be safely assumed,” Olmsted said, “that no improvement that the State can make will increase the astonishing qualities of Niagara.”
Olmsted felt a pristine park and the dynamic waterfalls would promote “pensive contemplation,” which, he hoped, might reveal a little of the glory of the Creator of nature.
“In this respect,” he added, “Niagara deserves to rank among the great treasures of the world.”
Among the changes Albany accomplished, amazing in itself, was to reduce the flow of water over Niagara Falls — something Olmsted probably never envisioned. After Albany took our hydro-power, in 1957, they diverted half to three-quarters — depending on time and season — of the water approaching the falls and sent it underground to generate electricity — not for locals to use, but for New York City and eight other states. Local residents do not get their power from the Niagara — a stunning fact about Albany governance in and of itself.
Besides halving the spectacle of the total amount of water going over the world’s most famous waterfalls, reducing what people came to see — water falling — Albany changed the park, veering far from Olmsted’s design.
For instance, Olmsted called the prohibition of restaurants and stores, “a cardinal necessity of the success of the plan.”
He wrote, “If it were a commercial undertaking into which the State was entering, in competition with the people of the village of Niagara, it cannot be questioned that the restaurant could be made profitable.”
But the park was supposed to help local businesses.
Today it has restaurants and stores competing with city businesses.
Olmsted also planned there would be no land set aside for parking except a few “shady harbors” under trees for brief stopping, “because at best many trees must be destroyed.”
But, in 1987, Albany clear-cut acres of trees for a parking lot.
Their greedy plan is brilliant: the routing of people along the Robert Moses State Parkway into their parking lot, paying $10 for parking, then $12.50 for the Maid of the Mist; $10 for the Cave of the Winds; buy souvenirs at stores in the park; eat at restaurants in the park; then, after an average four-hour stay, without an advertisement for any attraction in the city, millions of tourists leave believing there’s nothing else to do in Niagara Falls on the American side. They leave on state-owned roads out of town, or across the bridge to Canada. Every tourist dollar spent in the park alone!
Prior to 1987, people parked in the city and, consequently, patronized downtown shops. When Albany altered Olmsted’s plan, the city lost millions in tourist business.
I understand Albany is angry: To capture tourist’s money, they need to capture the tourist, first.
So be it. But don’t call it an Olmsted park.
Meanwhile, when cars are “diverted” into my lot, the city gets the benefit.
This year I paid $437,000 in city property taxes, culled mainly by taking every penny of profit from my parking lot. (So who’s the sucker?)
The profits from the state’s parking lot, however, go exclusively to Albany to help support parks in NYC.
Naturally, Albany wants to grab every car.
Don Glynn seems worried somehow that a car not parked is a tourist lost.
But Don, don’t worry, no matter where people park, they always wind up finding the falls anyway.
Meanwhile, if some people in the city get a little business other than Albany, well, that’s what Olmsted, and maybe Barnum, and I would have definitely wanted.
Frank Parlato Jr. is a Niagara Falls businessman.