By Allison Deutschman
Thursday night's Youngstown Village Board meeting was short due to the absence of trustees Steven Suitor and Tim Lockhart, as well as no public participation. Upon the early dismissal of the meeting, the board entered into a work session, inviting the public to stay and listen in.
The work session began by discussing the busses operating on Water Street, shuttling customers of Niagara Jet Adventures back and forth through the Village. The board and Niagara Jet Adventures owner Chris Bohnenkamp, alongside his attorney, Damon DeCastro, discussed this controversial topic in the community.
"The jet boat's initial business plan when they approached the village was not supposed to include a big bus going down Water Street," Mayor Raleigh Reynolds said.
Trustee Tim Adamson noted the company has had multiple ownership changes since that initial business plan was provided.
"When the busses are down there, in essence, you have a private business that is spilling over onto public land and, in effect, taking away the boat launch and the park from our residents that want to go down there and use them," Reynolds said.
If the operations only included one bus going down Water Street at a time, Reynolds and Adamson agreed this would be more manageable. There have previously been instances reported of up to five busses on the premise at once.
"We can work together with the board to address these concerns. I understand you don't want that road blocked; it's pretty straight forward and simple to address," DeCastro said.
The mayor presented the ongoing issue of some tourists walking on private property in the town and upsetting residents. Reynolds said he is working with Niagara USA to figure out ways to more effectively communicate with the tour guides and visitors about boundaries. Local walking tours, for example, are being considered.
Village Attorney Tom Caserta mentioned collaborating with the tourism school at Niagara University. More than a decade ago, they created an "Imagine Youngstown" campaign as part of a school project and, with that insight, Caserta said he hopes someone there can look at all of the village assets and give some suggestions for how to best utilize them.
"Instead of looking at these people as a hindrance, I'm wondering why our little village doesn't look at this as an opportunity?" asked Michelle Phelps, an employee of Niagara Jet Adventures, and the youth fellowship coordinator at First Presbyterian Church in Youngstown. "There are so many people here in our village looking at this as a problem instead of 'Wow! These are tourists who would happily spend money here.' "
The First Presbyterian Church is currently budgeting for a welcome center in the courtyard on Main Street. Members plan on having signage in Mandarin and Korean, as well as some Adirondack chairs, providing a place for tourists to relax.
"It is time for residents to embrace these diverse visitors," Phelps said. She explained it's important they understand the American culture - and that residents try to understand the visitors' cultures, as well.
The next Youngstown Village Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25.