NIAGARA FALLS, NY (WKBW) — Construction of a 'welcome plaza' project is not so welcoming for summer tourists at Niagara Falls State Park. The entrance to the park is shut down and it came as a total surprise to business owners along old falls street. Pedestrian traffic will be cut off for the entire summer season.
"But when we just come here one morning – they say - 'yeah it's closed for the whole summer'. Every business owner on the block is just speechless," explained Mario DeMita, owner, Mario's Pizza along Old Falls Street.
DeMita said closing the park entrance for the entire summer season will cut off a direct flow of customers. He fears it could mean a loss hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"It's got to be close to a million people who walk through here in the summer, and they walk through here from the hotels. This has to get done, but does it have to happen this summer?" questions DeMita.
New York State Parks estimates nine million people view the New York side of the Falls each year, many during the summer. But Corey Gough, who leads the Niagara Falls NY Chamber of Commerce tells us with the entrance closure, foot traffic is rapidly dropping.
"As you can see – people want to go to see Niagara Falls and there's only so many places they can enter and there's a lot of businesses who have been depending on this for years," Gough noted. "It just a ashamed that this is going to be closed – a lot of the business are depending on the foot traffic. I’ve been personally told by some of the construction workers here that they expect this to be be opened after Labor Day. That’s literally your summer window – Memorial Day to Labor Day."
Flip burger co-owner Ryan Vecchies says June, July and August are their prime times for business.
"It could be an entire wash for the summer since we're seasonal and we close in October," Vecchies stated. "You would think that they would have been discussed prior to doing this. It was kind of just sprung on us.”
Gaelan Baillie operates Niagara Bike Rental on Old Falls Street across from the park entrance. He rents bikes, wheelchairs, scooters and strollers. He tells 7 Eyewitness News they were blindsided by the park entrance closure.
"Nobody knew about this. I actually sit on the city of Niagara Falls Tourism Board – they don't know and at least i did not know that," Baillie said. "We're just going to have to kind of make due."
New York State parks officials tell 7 Eyewitness News they're working to "find a solution" that will open the entrance before July 4th.
In the meantime - parks officials say they're working with the business community to maintain visibility of old falls street with signage, website updates and social media posts. They promise - when the park project is complete - it would result in quote "a seamless and clear connection" to the city and Old Falls Street.
The Falls Street business owners are hoping for a solution. DeMita would like to see a resolution or compromise.
“We’re just hoping for some kind of resolution to this and see if they can get it open a lot quicker then the end of summer. We really appreciate the beautification process taking place here.
They’re spending millions of dollars on the park – that’s fantastic," DeMita said.
But DeMita suggests the construction should be conducted in the Fall or Spring.
Here's the entire statement issued by the state parks officials:
“State Parks recognizes that the timing of this phase of the project is not ideal. We are working to find a solution that will open this entrance prior to July 4. We are working with the business community to maintain visibility of businesses on Old Falls Street with signage, website updates and social media posts. When complete, the project will result in a seamless and clear connection to the city and Old Falls Street which will help visitors better orient with the offerings both inside and outside of the park. We ask for cooperation and assure everyone that when the project is complete, the connection between the city and the park will be ideal for cultivating the kind of tourism atmosphere we all desire.”