NIAGARA FALLS, NY – The Olmsted Park Conservancy says it is reviewing a call by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo to erect a hotel on Goat Island, within the bounds of Niagara Falls State Park.
According to a spokesperson for the group, the Olmsted board of directors hopes to issue an opinion on the controversial plan perhaps as early as next week.
During a recent visit to cut the ribbon on the new Doubletree by Hilton Hotel on Buffalo Avenue, the Governor again touched on the proposal he first mentioned in a regional state of the state address a few weeks earlier.
Cuomo spoke of erecting a tourist lodge on Goat Island, offering “sweeping vistas” of the water.
On both occasions, the Governor left after his remarks without taking questions from reporters.
Though Cuomo did not specifically state where on Goat Island he envisioned to hotel to be built, several sources tell us the likely location would be on the east end of the Island, farthest away from the world famous falls.
The area currently contains an overflow parking lot, and until almost 30 years ago, there was also a pad for helicopters taking tourist over the falls, until it was removed amid complaints about noise and the incursion of further commercialism in the park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
“Frederick law Olmsted designed this park to be a nature preserve. Not the commercial industrial tourist factory that it is today," said author and activist James Hufnagel, who believes the state has already paved enough of the island over with parking lots and other commercial ventures.
“We're not saying to make Niagara Falls State Park a rain forest untrodden by human footsteps. But this would be commercial undertaking in this park that is starting to resemble more Disney than it does a nature preserve that honors the falls," Hufnagel said.
“This is a really bad idea,” said Tim Balunis of North Tonawanda, who along with his wife Ingrid, travels to Goat Island at least twice a week to enjoy the natural surroundings.
The idea of building a hotel on the island left him shocked.
“I don’t know if it's an insane idea, but it sure is crazy," Blaunis said.
Meanwhile, Hufnagle finds himself leery of any so called improvements proposed by the state for Goat Island, especially after what it did to the Three Sisters Islands, the ability of which to explore was severely curtailed by an “improvement” plan which among other things no longer permits visitors to wander to the water’s edge.
“It’s really distressing,” said Hufnagel. “Three Sisters Island was leveled with bulldozers, paved with pavers and sidewalks and fenced off. The local residents are upset that Three Sisters Island was basically taken away from them."
While the park is entirely in the control of the state, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster – who prides himself in being an environmentalist, says he too will watching the situation closely.
Dyster told WGRZ-TV that if the hotel on Goat Island were to come to pass, he would be most concerned that its design fit in with the island’s natural surroundings.
At the same time, Dyster notes the location being talked about for the hotel was not originally part of the island, and was in fact man made, using fill from the construction of the Robert Moses Parkway in the 1960’s.
Asked if public pressure could stop the Governor’s plan, Hufnagel said, “We’re extremely concerned that Governor Cuomo is simply going to plow this through and he's going to build his lodge here on Goat Island."
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