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Apr 08 - Apr 15, 2014

Buffalo Billionaire Banishes Tesla, Expands State Park Monopoly

By James Hufnagel

April 08, 2014

Delaware North concessions at Prospect Point in the Niagara Falls State Park soon to be serving eight million tourists.


Why is State Parks planning to move the Nikola Tesla statue just a couple of hundred yards, from the Prospect Point pavilion to near the brink of the American Falls, anyway?

Not a single line in the 92-page Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements plan, which was released two years ago, calls for relocating the statue, even though it goes into excruciating detail on where every new park bench, streetlamp, sign, fence, curb, stair, pavement stone, bicycle rack and even trash receptacle should go, what they should be made of and how they should look.

Did State Parks Western Region director Mark Thomas wake up one morning, rise from bed, let the dog out, get the coffee started, and as he's standing there shaving in the mirror, belatedly come to the sudden realization that the Tesla statue needs a new home a stone's throw from where it sits now?

You couldn't be blamed for wondering if that's how it went down, given that not a single square foot of the park goes unaccounted for in the Landscape Improvements plan, which sets forth the blueprint for optimizing tourist throughput in its paid parking lots, Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist attractions, souvenir and gift shops, food stands and restaurants of the former nature preserve.

The proposed new location for the Tesla statue will further de-Olmsted the park.

The Tesla statue, presently situated between the main parking lot on Goat Island and the Cave of the Winds entrance, virtually surrounded by snack bars, a photo booth and other amenities, is arguably the centerpiece of the most heavily trafficked area of the park, exposing the maximum number of tourists to the Tesla legacy.

Therefore another, more likely, explanation is that the multinational, Buffalo-based food service conglomerate Delaware North Companies, Inc., which owns the exclusive right to peddle snacks, pop, booze, ice cream and fast food in the Niagara Falls State Park, wishes to expand its operations at Prospect Point and the Tesla statue is taking up valuable real estate. It's in the way. Because as we know, while statues uplift a citizenry and can be a source of civic pride and a dignified symbol of our proud industrial past and heritage, they are relatively poor contributors to the corporate bottom line.

According to "Open Book New York" a service of the Office of the State Comptroller, Delaware North entered into a $10.2 million agreement with State Parks, commencing on July 1, 2002, to operate food, beverage and gift shop concessions in the Niagara Falls State Park, with a contract end date of Dec. 31, 2121.

Considering that Delaware North feeds the eight million tourists who visit Niagara Falls State Park every year, we anticipate that the beleaguered restaurants of downtown Niagara Falls are going to have one hell of a New Year's Eve party when the end of 2121 rolls around. That is, unless Andrew Cuomo is still governor in 2121 and he arbitrarily and unilaterally extends the Delaware North contract for another 30 years, like he did with that of Maid of the Mist.

If you want to know why restaurants routinely fail here in the city, look no further than, the park's official web site, maintained and copyrighted by Delaware North. It features subsections such as "In-Park Dining" (listing Prospect Point Cafe', Prospect Point grill, Prospect Point Coffee and Ice Cream Shop and Cave of the Winds Snack Bar), "Banquets and Groups" (which pitches for both wedding receptions and corporate meetings) and an online menu for Top-of-The-Falls restaurant.

Elsewhere on the site, which is maintained by Delaware North in fulfillment of its "public-private partnership" with the state, is a paean to Jeremy Jacobs, Chairman and CEO of Delaware North. Jacobs, whose fortune Forbes magazine pegs at $2.8 billion, is the man primarily responsible for the proliferation of food stands and other tacky commercial exploitation of the park and its attendant rape of the local economy.

The Niagara Falls State Park web site spares nothing in its lavish praise for him: "Jeremy M. Jacobs has guided Delaware North for four decades as chairman and CEO, taking the entrepreneurial company started by his father and uncles to heights they could never have imagined. Thanks to his leadership, Delaware North is one of the most successful and enduring privately held companies in the world. Jeremy Jacobs lends his business acumen and vast industry experience to a number of other organizations, including the Boston Bruins, which he owns; and the National Hockey League, whose board of governors he chairs."

It's well-known among park insiders that Delaware North desires to expand its footprint at Prospect Point. Tesla's statue is to be moved. We hope it ends up in the city, where it can serve to jumpstart our nascent heritage tourism efforts. Laudably, the Niagara Falls City Council has spoken on the matter. We hope other politicians like Niagara Falls Mayor Dyster and New York State Senator George Maziarz speak up for us too, and soon.

Speaking of politicians, besides the titular state senators from Buffalo who, by a quirk of fate, used to represent Niagara Falls as part of their district ten years ago, it's worth noting that our Albany representative at the time of the 2002 contract that ensured that millions of dollars worth of food service and souvenir sales annually would take place in the state's park and benefit Delaware North instead of the city, was Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte.

DelMonte was recently appointed Chair of USA Niagara, in charge of economic development for the city.

State Parks plan to move the Tesla statue close to the brink of the falls will make the statue a part of the "new view" of the waterfalls.


One illustration from the Landscape Improvements plan suggests the placement of new restrooms on either side of the distinctive statue. Tesla seated on the throne, as it were.


Delaware North food shanty near Top-of-the-Falls features graphic of falls - view while you chew. Ice Cream booth in front of Delaware North Gift Shop mere yards from brink of American Falls. Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted directed that such commerce take place in the city.






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