NIAGARA FALLS — It was billed as a meeting about reconfiguring the Robert Moses Parkway, but the real issue Monday seemed to be who will control tourist parking in the city.
Frank Parlato, who controls One Niagara, the “flash cube” building across the street from the Niagara Reservation State Park parking lot, made common cause with environmentalists and history buffs who called for returning to Frederick Law Olmsted’s 19th century vision of a wild, contemplative preserve around the Falls.
That means no parking in the park, and that would be good news for Parlato, who owns a parking lot.
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation kicked off its official process aimed at changing the current one-way segment of the Robert Moses Parkway between John Daly Boulevard and Parking Lot No. 1, the main parking lot at the state park visitor center. That’s the building in which about 100 people attended Monday’s hearing.
“It shouldn’t be a plot to get people into a state lot and take tourism away from the City of Niagara Falls,” said Vincent Parlato, Frank’s son.
“I think it would be an elegant and supremely respectful gesture to return [the park] to Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision and remove all commercial enterprise,” Frank Parlato said.
He also called for removing the state’s $10-per-car lot so tourists would have to park outside the park.
Parlato asserted that 70 to 80 people in the audience were employed at One Niagara or worked for tour operators that use the building as a terminus.
Although two years ago state parks floated a plan for a traffic circle at the Daly interchange, officials asserted Monday there is no fixed plan for what to do with the 1.3-mile southern segment of the parkway.
“There are no firm plans. There are only preliminary goals,” said Tom Lyons, a state parks official from Albany who moderated the meeting.
“This is the first step in a long process,” said Jeffrey W. Lebsock of Hatch Mott Mac- Donald, the lead design firm. After two more public meetings next spring, at which alternative plans will be aired, design work is supposed to start in late 2009. After more meetings, including a formal public hearing in 2010, detailed designing will lead to construction in 2012.
“I can’t see why there should be a road through the park at all,” said Jack Glennie, a Niagara Falls artist. “Parking Lot No. 1 shouldn’t even be there. . . . You guys should be directing traffic into the city.”
James Hufnagel of Niagara Heritage Partnership said making the park all-natural would produce ecotourism.
Hufnagel said, “We’re never going to compete with the Canadian side with the neon lights and the commercialism. We could do something very special.”
Mayor Paul A. Dyster said the city wants the south segment of the parkway either removed or reduced to a “park road” so people can see the Niagara River from the city.
“Whether there’s no road or a limited road, it has to be at grade level and not part of a berm,” said city Senior Planner Thomas DeSantis.