Imagine a Niagara Falls that isn’t fearful or chained down by willful ignorance. A Niagara Falls that welcomes new ideas, creativity, and risk-takers. A Niagara Falls that rises up to the occasion and blows away expectations in everything we do. If you attended last month’s Niagara Falls Music and Art Festival on Old Falls Street, you saw that type of thinking in action.
With recent improvements to Old Falls Street and neighboring businesses, the Downtown core is beginning to show significant signs of growth and progress. These improvements were on display for the thousands of festival goers, made up of both residents and tourists. Main Street Business Association President Rick Crogan and his dedicated volunteer team executed a magnificent event that lined the entire stretch of Old Falls Street with unique vendors showcasing their handcrafted products, tasteful cuisine, and more.
Throughout the entire event there seemed to be a steady flow of patrons exploring the works of various artists, craftsman, and food vendors from all over Western New York. The festival ambience was bolstered by the recent additions of outdoor dining accommodations by TGIFs and Savor, the fine dining restaurant located inside the NCCC Culinary Institute. Old Falls Street’s recent and branding improvement aided the effort to create a beautiful setting and an even better festival atmosphere. The product delivered by the festival organizers exceeded my preconceived expectations based on its predecessor, the Main Street Music & Arts Festival, which took place in 2011 and again in 2012. This year’s festival showed tremendous progress and provided a glimpse into a bright future for festivals in Downtown Niagara Falls. With a unified effort and a willingness to persevere, great events can occur.
Rick Crogan and his team had a vision and they relentlessly pursued it, never measuring the festivals future success against its past blunders. There isn’t room for ordinary thinking anymore. The dire state of the city is anything but ordinary and needs innovative solutions to cure the problems plaguing our community. Take a look around at other struggling cities; you’ll quickly find that what we in Niagara Falls consider innovative is actually a standard in those places. Mural arts programs in Philadelphia are revitalizing neighborhoods. “Pop-Up” art galleries are bringing life to vacant commercial storefronts in Chicago. We must begin to think BIG as Rick Crogran did and take back our city. If nothing changes, nothing changes. Reclaiming our prosperity and rebuilding our legacy as a destination community isn’t going to happen if we continue to think inside the box. Remember this saying come election time later on this year, “If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.”
Ordinary Bus Stop at Old Falls Street and Third Street
Why should all the fun be regulated to city parks and playgrounds? Why not bring a piece of the park into the everyday amenities that both children and adults use such as bus stops. We all know the vast majority of bus stops are boring, laced with advertisements, and disturbingly uncomfortable. Incorporating swings into such bus stops would invoke a playful, youthful, and enjoyable experience for people impatiently waiting for the next bus to arrive. Such installations have occurred in London, Montreal, and other places around the world. While bus stops have remained primarily untouched in Western New York, Buffalo has recently introduced green roofs and solar panels on NFTA bus stops in certain locations. Retrofitting bus stops with unique sustainable and creative amenities is yet to be embraced completely in the Buffalo-Niagara region. Check out the other innovative bus stops seen around the world ... maybe you'll find some inspiration to implement something similar in Niagara Falls. I know I did.
If Nik Wallenda taught us anything from his June 15th,2012 feat at Niagara Falls, its that it doesn't matter how insane, how impossible, how daring, how hopeless something appears to be, with the right determination and passion for success, anything can be accomplished. Although Nik Wallenda brought in immense capital with his spectacle down at the Terrapin Point, the true gift to the city is was his dispay of grit, determination, and just a bit of foolishness. A foolishness that symbolically conveys to the onlooker to take a stand and step out of your comfort zone into a place where your dreams can be accomplish. If you challenge the ordinary, you CAN become extraordinary. Nik Wallenda did just that on June 15th, 2012 and created a symbolic and historic blueprint for the revival of Niagara Falls NY.
For the the first time in the last 3 years that I've spent working in downtown Niagara Falls, there is a unified effort to brand Niagara Falls in spectacular fashion for the entire world to see. The formerly empty and dull thoroughfare of Old Falls Street that the city spent millions of dollars on redesigning and reconstructing is now booming with over 20 vendors, banners, and beautiful landscaping. Neighboring businesses and business owners are doing their own part in preparing for the national spotlight that the Nik Wallenda walk is drawing to the Buffalo-Niagara Region. The Comfort Inn, owned by Maid of the Mist Owner James Glynn, has invested in 4 "shacks" much like the ones on Old Falls Street; although his retail strip remains completely vacant despite hundreds of tourists traveling past it everyday. The City of Niagara Falls perked up by refacing the former eyesore vendor booths with a much more inviting maroon tone and painting the trim white giving them a more comfortable presence on Old Falls Street. Niagara Falls Redevelopment even decided to spent some cash on cleaning up the former Native American Cultural Museum (otherwise known as the Turtle Building). However Niagara Falls Redevelopment still only managed to erect a banner 1/2 the size of the Niagara Street Business Associations banner despite having a far greater amount of capital at their disposal ... All things taken into account, the downtown district has dramatically shaped up in the last few weeks and even shows signs of continued growth with several vendors locking into their booths throughout the summer. Maybe Old Falls Street will become a Vending District as it was planned in the city's 2009 Comprehensive Plan!
As I recall in the reconstruction of Old Falls Street, officials declared that the thoroughfare would be home to a "Vendor District". A few years later and there are still few to no vendors consistently operating on the street. Why is that?
It seems that Suits upstairs at USA Niagara are more conscious of the aesthetics of street vendors moreso than their economic capability & the livlihood they'd inject into an otherwise lathargic downtown. I believe this is discouraging potential vendors from inquiring about operating on Old Falls Street.
How can you regulate aesthetics before there are any aethetics to regulate? Regulation should be minimal and only furthered when aesthetics, safety, and the overall well-being of the community become a problem.