By Nick Mattera
Niagara Gazette The Niagara Gazette Sun Feb 13, 2011, 12:10 AM EST
NIAGARA FALLS — One region, two Niagaras and a shared future is the motto of the cross-border bi-national advocacy dubbed the Niagara-10.
The group of mayors and regional officials from 10 communities situated along the U.S.-Canadian border was established in 2007 in an effort to support and advocate for development, transportation and tourism initiatives that impact the bi-national region.
The 10-member, unofficial group is made up of a representative from the cities of Niagara Falls, N.Y. and Ontario, and Buffalo, the Towns of Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, the villages of Lewiston and Youngstown, Niagara and Erie counties and the Regional Municipality of Niagara.
The group met Friday for the first time this year in downtown Buffalo to discuss a host of topics ranging from specific development projects in the region, border security and the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
“(The Niagara 10) aligns itself with a common interest of promoting the region jointly,” said Kerry Mitchell, manager of political and economic affairs at the Canadian Consulate General in Buffalo. She said the different communities have a realization that working together in terms of supporting ideas or projects that would be beneficial to the entire region is key.
“I think that what came out of this meeting was a reaffirmation of the importance of acting together,” she said.
Acting together in advocating for specific economic development projects, an open border between the two countries and an agreement on the importance of high speed rail were all topics on conversation, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said.
“We discussed the fact that we may have to lobby together in Albany, Washington and (Ottawa, Ont.) for high-speed rail funding,” Dyster said. “We also discussed the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and its significance for the two countries as a tourism driver.”
High Speed Rail
Dyster, who has long advocated for the benefits of high speed rail and aided in the city receiving a competitive federal transportation grant to construct an intermodal train station in the city’s North End, is not alone in his realization of the importance of improving the rail infrastructure.
Mitchell said there is a realization amongst the officials that a high speed rail corridor connecting the Greater Toronto area to Niagara Falls, N.Y. and beyond is beneficial for both countries.
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Niagara Falls, Ont. Mayor Jim Diodati is currently looking to secure funding to add a year-round Greater Ontario Rail Service line which will connect the city directly to Toronto.
“It is going to act as an umbilical cord to the Toronto area and its 4.5 million residents,” Diodati said. “It ties so closely into what you guys are doing in Niagara Falls, N.Y. and even further to the northeast corridor. We want to go right from Toronto to Miami. Which is going to be so exciting.”
William Ross, chairman of the Niagara County Legislature and member of the Niagara 10, said the bi-national group is key in its ability to work with higher levels of government to secure the massive amounts of funding necessary for projects such as high speed rail.
“It’s a great advocacy group,” Ross said of the Niagara 10. “I think it’s great to bring officials from both sides to discuss these issues and look to the next levels of government for the necessary funding. Do I think it’s worthwhile to have these meetings? Yes, of course. It’s always good to establish a relationship with people that have some of the same problems as you, but live in a different country.”
John Percy, chief executive officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. said rail visitors are a growing market, as many travelers are moving away from flying due to tighter security at airports. He added that many visitors to Niagara Falls are coming from foreign countries in Europe and Asia where high speed rail or rail in general is the primary means of transportation.
“We are very cognizant of the possibilities that could come from high speed rail,” Percy said.
A key piece to a larger economic puzzle, is the ability for the region as a whole to attract and retain tourists, which is one of the goals of the Niagara 10, Mitchell said.
“(The Niagara 10) wants to take advantage of the rather unique historic and strategic opportunities that exists in the region,” she said.
One of the topics discussed Friday pertaining to tourism was the celebration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The event which has received much support on the Canadian side of the border but little funding on the U.S side could bring hundreds of thousands of heritage tourists to the region.
Ross, noting the region played a pivotal role in some of the major battles of the war, expects an influx of tourists at spots like Fort Niagara and Fort George. He stressed the importance of lobbying for more funding to put on a “good show.”
Aside from the War of 1812, both Dyster and Percy said marketing Niagara Falls as one destination and not as Niagara Falls, N.Y or Niagara Falls, Ont. exclusively. Percy said the entire regional is full of unique destinations that if marketed together could keep residents here for longer periods of time.
“We do have uniqueness and unique attractions to the traveling public,” Dyster said. “We have always said whether they stay on the U.S side or the Canadian side, we want tourists to visit both countries and stay that extra day or two.”
A long list of bi-national economic development projects for the majority of municipalities in the Niagara 10 was presented to the group Friday. Some of the projects or initiatives involved projects that have already been completed, while others involved projects that have not been formally discussed in public.
Locally, a Niagara River ferry project connecting Youngstown to Niagara-on-the-Lake was reviewed by the group. There was no price tag or timeline on the project but the developer was identified as the Niagara County Department of Economic Development.
The renovation of the historic U.S Customhouse on Whirlpool Street, as well as the marketing of the Niagara Falls International Airport were proposed in Niagara Falls.
In Buffalo, projects such as Canalside Development and the Buffalo Medical Campus were put forward for review by the group.
Ross said the development projects are truly what he believes are the key to the Niagara 10. He said any time a group can work together to further any project that will create jobs and improve the quality of life of residents in a community it’s something he supports.
“That’s what is important,” Ross said of the projects.
Dyster said in order for the Niagara Region and the bi-national region to move forward, relationships like those being formed through the Niagara 10 are certainly beneficial in the furthering of the community as a whole.