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‘Mad Traveler’ shocked by conditions while looking for family home in Falls | Local News

Over the Easter break, travel writer and Western New York native David Seminara returned to the area to visit family and friends.

After landing at the Niagara Falls International Airport, Seminara, professionally known as “the crazy traveler,” decided to take a detour to the city of Niagara Falls.

He wanted to visit Niagara Falls State Park, tour Main Street and Pine Avenue, and take a closer look at the neighborhoods where his grandfather owned two homes and where his father grew up.

What he saw – vacant lots, boarded-up buildings, dozens and dozens of empty and abandoned houses – shocked him.

“I knew it wasn’t going to look good, but I was shocked at how bad it was,” Seminara said in a recent interview with the Niagara Gazette. “I usually don’t go to these residential streets when I go back to the Falls. »

Seminara documented his experience, including his sometimes raw and emotional reactions, in a video he posted on his YouTube page “Mad Traveler” under the title “Why is Niagara Falls (NY) so poor?”

At one point in the video, he can be heard asking a familiar question that many have asked about Niagara Falls, New York, for many years: “What happened to that place ?

“Niagara Falls has some of the same problems as other cities around the world. There’s no doubt about it,” Seminara said. “You think because of the number of tourists going there, it should be more prosperous than it is.”

THE ROOTS OF THE FALLS FAMILY AT THE WORLD TRAVELER

Seminara’s grandparents, Carmello and Antonietta, settled in Niagara Falls after moving to the United States from Gangi, a small village in the province of Palermo, Sicily.

Her father, Carmen, now 92 and living in Amherst, grew up in the town as part of a large Italian family that included himself and eight siblings. All of Seminara’s aunts and uncles lived at the Falls. His brother still lives in Buffalo.

Seminara spent most of his adult life traveling abroad, first as a diplomat working for the U.S. Foreign Service and, more recently, as a freelance journalist and travel writer who wrote articles for the New York Times and other publications. Seminara is also the author of four books, including “Mad Travelers: A Tale of Wanderlust, Greed and the Quest to Reach the Ends of the Earth,” which tells the story of wealthy travelers who set out in search of untouched frontiers to then be taken away. during a wild ride by a crook.

In his role as “The Mad Traveler,” Seminara said he basically lets his curiosity guide him from one place to another. To date, he has visited 80 countries around the world.

“I’m definitely somewhat obsessed with traveling,” he said. “I want to visit every country in the world.”

SEE THE FALLS, VISIT THE CITY

Seminara’s Easter visit to the Falls began where many do: Niagara Falls State Park. In his video, he takes a look at the observation tower and the falls themselves before visiting the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. At one point, he points his camera toward the Niagara Welcome Center and International Food Court, a site that makes him wonder, “What the hell is that?”

“Credit to them for trying, but they never really figured out how to make Niagara Falls, New York, attractive to tourists. There’s so much schlock everywhere,” Seminara said in his video.

Seminara, accompanied by his wife and their two teenage children, also takes a stroll down Pine Avenue, a street he describes as “depressing” without being much different from other similar streets in other modern American cities.

In his interview with the newspaper, Seminara suggested that the city’s “Little Italy” arches — one near Portage Road and the other near Hyde Park Boulevard — send the wrong signal to visitors. In reality, he pointed out, there isn’t much “Little Italy” left in the area.

“When you call something Little Italy and there’s so little Italian heritage there, it’s a little disappointing.” You’re promising something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

THE OLD NEIGHBORHOODS

Seminara’s father told him many stories about how much he loved growing up in Niagara Falls, which his father fondly remembers as a safe community filled with friendly people. He said his father always talked about the DiCamillo Bakery, where he loved to get slices of Romano’s pizza.

Today, Seminara said, it’s hard to imagine the Niagara Falls her father enjoyed in his youth. In his video, he describes what replaced it as “tragic.”

“It’s sad what happened to Niagara Falls,” he said in the video. “There’s no doubt about it, but it’s been going on for a very long time.”

Using copies of her grandfather’s draft registration cards – one from World War I in 1919 and a second from World War II in 1942 – Seminara attempts to visit the two homes that her grandfather owned in the city.

In her quest to locate her grandfather’s first house, located at 561 14th St., Seminara finds a vacant lot where the house once stood. The land is in the area just off Niagara Street, where much of the property and condemned buildings are owned by the private company Niagara Falls Redevelopment.

Beneath the images of dilapidated properties in the area, Seminara poses an interesting question: “Have horror movies been filmed here?”

He describes it as “a completely decimated neighborhood”.

On 15th Street, off Pine Avenue, Seminara finds the other house once owned by her grandfather. The house, located at 1017 15th St., still stands, although empty and in disrepair. He describes the neighborhood surrounding the property as “dark” and “a really sad sight.”

“It definitely looks better but not great,” he said in his video. “Most of these houses are at least inhabited.”

PROSPECTS OF HOPE

One thing Seminara encounters repeatedly while making her video are approachable people who have a positive vision for the city’s future.

One of his interviewees is Tom DiCamillo, a member of the DiCamillo family who started working in the family bakery when he was 12 years old. He asks DiCamillo when all the Italian families started leaving, to which DiCamillo replies, “Well, when did everyone leave?” »

“We endured,” adds DiCamillo, referring to the baking business, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in the Falls in 2020.

DiCamillo attributes the city’s current state to “a lot of bad decisions.”

“We get between 10 and 13 million visitors a year and we should have capitalized on that,” he said.

DiCamillo expresses optimism about the city’s future, noting that the falls still welcome many tourists, are connected to a fifth of the world’s fresh water supply, and have a climate he describes as generally “moderate.” .

“I think we’ve hit rock bottom,” DiCamillo said. “I think we’re starting to turn around.”

A NEW WAY FORWARD?

In his interview with the newspaper, Seminara said he was always struck by how often mentioning that you have family in Niagara Falls leads someone to say something negative.

“I very rarely get positive comments when I say that I grew up near Niagara Falls and that my father was born there,” he said. “I almost never hear anything positive from the American side and for me it’s a missed opportunity.”

Despite the state of the city, Seminara said there’s no denying that seeing the falls themselves remains one of the true “must-see” experiences for travelers.

That’s one reason why, while working on the article with New York Times editors, he recommended adding Niagara Falls to his list of “52 Places to go to 2014. His editors agreed, provided he described Niagara Falls as a more cross-border attraction and included references to things to see and do on the Canadian side.

A decade later, Seminara said the article still received “a huge amount of web traffic.”

“I thought they could take advantage of it,” Seminara said of Falls leaders.

Although in many neighborhoods this remains a disadvantage, Seminara believes that the glut of available and affordable housing and properties in the city can be a bonus in a time of high demand and prices for real estate.

“If you want to encourage young people to move to Niagara Falls, there’s never been a better time to do it because young people can’t buy a house anywhere else,” he said.

Nevertheless, he added, there is still much to be done to make the community more attractive to outsiders.

“People don’t want to live with condemned buildings all around them. Cheap is not enough,” he said.

TAKEAWAYS

Seminara knows there are no easy answers to fix everything that’s wrong at the Falls and he doesn’t imply in his video that he has any. He said he hoped the video would spark a wider debate about the need to consider new approaches.

“People can watch my film and make up their own minds,” he said. “I don’t want to try to convince anyone of anything. I hope this makes you think.

To begin, he recommends that local tourism officials form focus groups with travel writers and frequent travelers to try to get a sense of what makes a trip to the falls worth it and what which needs to be improved.

Although it may seem radical, he spoke of a program adopted by Gangi, the Sicilian village where his grandfather was born. The article highlighted the village’s efforts to encourage outside investment by literally handing over properties to individuals who agreed to renovate them.

In his video, Seminara points out that Niagara Falls is more than just dilapidated buildings and decaying neighborhoods, pointing out that there are nice parts of the city that aren’t included in his video.

Even in their depressed state, he said the falls had strong attractions and good people continued to attract them. He counts himself among those seeking a return and said he would offer his services and expertise if community leaders and tourism officials thought it would help.

“No one wants to see a renaissance in Niagara Falls more than me,” he said.