NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — Niagara Falls, a natural wonder in our own backyard.
The allure of the falls attracts more than nine million visitors each and every year.
"It is beautiful, said Steven Carroll. "It's powerful."
"It's really pretty," said Keri Negosian. "It's just amazing the sheer strength and force of the water. I'm awestruck."
But only a stone's throw away on Main Street in the City of Niagara Falls, some of that beauty begins to fade.
Mayor Robert Restaino was born and raised in Niagara Falls and has spent most of his life in the Cataract City.
"It is difficult," Restaino said. "There has always been those hopes over the course of decades. Those hopes have been dashed."
Restaino says poverty, underemployment and years of neglect have taken their toll on this once proud city.
"Main Street Niagara Falls was a lot like Main Street everywhere," Restaino said. "It had just about everything, you didn't have to go anywhere. Ultimately what is left now are some of the few hardy souls who continue to anchor this."
Hardy souls who Restaino believes deserve better.
"I'm trying at this point to underhype and overperform," Restaino said.
How do you bring back that sense of civic pride?
To start Restaino plans to use $57 million from the American Rescue Act to upgrade infrastructure, invest in business and to improve the overall visual image of the city.
$5 million of those federal funds will be used to repair and upgrade the public library
$7.5 million will go to paving streets and improving street scapes
$10.5 million will be spent on new LED lighting for neighborhoods throughout the city.
"Along these streets you have old lighting, lighting that goes back decades," Restaino said. "What we want to do first of all is bring LED lighting but it's always smarter in which the way the city will appear. The light will be brighter. We are also going to include technology, smart city technology, and security cameras to assist law enforcement."
Restaino believes the investments will provide a boost to neighborhoods and key business corridors by ultimately attracting more visitors to the city center, pointing to some of the momentum on Third Street as the model.
"Slowly this part of town is finding its way back," Restaino said. "I think success breeds success. What we have to do is make sure new businesses that open up that they speak to the success of being on this street. And once you start doing those kinds of things, other businesses come. We know that this street, Third Street gets a lot of traffic during our tourist season. The more we can ignite that the more excitement we are going to have a long this road. We have to bring the residents back downtown. Downtown has to become their place again. We have lost a little of that."
Development projects continue to pop up including the new Cambria Hotel which is currently under construction, but Restaino says turning Niagara Falls into a year round entertainment option is critical to the city's future, and is hanging his hat on a proposed $150-million project called Centennial Park which Restaino believes will spur economic growth and create important jobs.
"It's a multiple-purpose facility that will also have an adventure campus, rope courses, and other outdoor activities," Restaino said. "The idea again is we are swinging for the fences on it. The goal really is to get back to.. is to elevate the city to a place where we already know a brand name. We know that people know us internationally, we want when they come here to see that Niagara Falls is first rate in terms of technology and in terms of what it offers to guests. To have a real sense of civic pride."