Niagara Falls, N.Y. - Five years ago, 2 On Your Side's Scott Brown produced an Emmy-award winning special that comparied Niagara Falls, New York with Niagara Falls, Canada.
At that time, we reported how on our side of the Falls, decades of bad decisions, inaction by out of town developers, and a lack of focus on tourism had left Niagara Falls, New York destitute and with few tourist attractions.
We decided to go back to the Falls to see what's changed, and what has not over these last five years.
In the first of two reports, Scott looks at what changes for the better have happened over these last five years.
Scott Brown: "When you look across the way (to Canada) and you see that skyline how does that make you feel?"
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster: "Well I feel better than I did five years ago because I know we're gaining ground. We've got a ways to go, but I'm increasing less ashamed of the comparison with Niagara Falls, Ontario."
The words "less ashamed" coming from the Mayor amount to progress these days in Niagara Falls, New York.
The two most visible signs of progress are the fact the old Wintergarden was taken down, returning a direct route to the state park, and along with it is the beautiful new Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, which is part of Niagara Community College.
The Institute takes up about one third of the old Rainbow Centre Mall.
Five years ago we reported that the long-vacant mall, owned by a developer in Baltimore, was one of the major impediments to downtown redevelopment in the city.
Shortly after our special aired, the developer gifted the mall to the city, which led to the new Culinary Institute where NCCC students get on the job training and take classes.
Mayor Paul Dyster: "I think the gamble to take down the Wintergarden has paid off, it's paid off in the Culinary Institute, it's paid off in increased pedestrian traffic on Old Falls Street to the center of the city, next comes the Rainbow Mall."
This fall, the city and state are expected to choose a developer for the remaining parts of the mall.
Another positive development in the Falls has been investment in the city by developers.
The developers though are not Americans but Canadians like Faisal Merani, whose family has already spent $18 million to buy and renovate two hotels in the Falls and now has plans to bet another $18 million on the Falls' future as it's going to undertake a total rehabilitation of the old Fallsview Hotel.
Scott Brown: "What makes you so confident about investing this much money in Niagara Falls?"
Faisal Merani: "It's just history. We've seen it with our other two properties, the one we're at now plus the Holiday Inn downtown, I've had steady growth for the past eight years now and that's not something you can argue with."
Something else that can't be argued with is the fact that tourism has been identified as one of the prime focuses of the state's Billion to Buffalo plan.
Mayor Paul Dyster: "We got Niagara Falls as the center of the tourism industry, and the Buffalo Billion project identifies there should be some sort of signature project downtown here in Niagara Falls."
Two of the most positive developments for the Falls' future took place last election day when, as a result of redistricting, Brian Higgins who has helped resurrect Buffalo's waterfront, replaced Louise Slaughter of Rochester as the Falls new representative in congress, and George Maziarz, a Niagara County resident and the third most powerful man in the state senate, now represents the Falls, that after the city had been represented by someone from Buffalo for the last 20 years.
Ned Perlman is a Falls attorney and civic leader who says the change in representation to Higgins and Maziarz means a lot because the Falls has suffered from decades of poor and sometimes corrupt leadership
Ned Perlman: "Senator Maziarz is a very effective legislator on the statewide level, he has a lot of influence in the state senate. Brian Higgins has shown himself as a congressman who gets things done."
So, new leadership, a big new project, and the possibility of a big bucks investment by the state are all good news.
But the Falls' is still a very distressed and depressed city.
And the differences between our side and Canada when it comes to the tourism industry are stark and scary.
To get an opinion about those differences with some spice on it, all you have to do is go to the landmark Como Restaurant, a Falls institution since the 1920s.
Niagara Falls Resident Diane Hurley: "Their side's booming, their side has all kinds of stuff, look at ours, there is nothing. You look from the Canadian side to the American side there's like nothing here."