|Mayor Irene Elia also had a lot to offer to Buffalo.
Albany, the state capitol, is on the fast track for one of four upstate non-Indian casinos in a deal that couldn't be more different than the one forced on Niagara Falls by Albany officials.
While the Albany deal might be compared to a top of the line 2014 Cadillac XTS, the Niagara Falls arrangement is more akin to a 1994 Toyota with a big dent in the passenger side door and a bad muffler.
Under the Albany arrangement, local officials – the mayor and the city council – are in charge of negotiations with the casino developer. In Niagara Falls, the terms of the original compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians and last year's subsequent 10-year extension of the terms were dictated to the city by the state Assembly, Senate and governor's office.
In Niagara Falls, the city receives 25 percent of the 25 percent of slot machine revenue while the state keeps the other 75 percent. Albany residents will enjoy a yet-to-be determined percentage of the whole enchilada, including slots, table games, bed tax revenue from the 350-room hotel that will be a part of the casino, restaurant and bar receipts and sales at the many boutiques and general merchandise stores that are a part of every modern casino.
Niagara Falls receives exactly zero in property taxes from the owners of the casino, the Seneca Nation of Indians. Albany will collect full taxes on the casino there, which has been estimated to have a value of between $300 and $400 million once completed.
While the Senecas were given the former Niagara Falls convention center and 50 acres of prime real estate for free to open their casino, developers in Albany will have to buy their own property. The current choice of property there is a 60-acre site at Exit 23 on the Thruway, on Albany's South Side. The property is owned by the Noonan clan, the maternal side of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's family, which should go a long way toward overcoming any unforeseen regulatory issues the project might face in Washington.
The 1,800 permanent casino and hotel jobs created in Albany would all be unionized under the agreement, and virtually everyone working at the entertainment complex would be a resident of the Capitol District. In Niagara Falls there is no union presence at the hotel or casino, and a large number of casino employees are Seneca Indians brought in from the Cattaraugus and Salamanca reservations.
Finally, Albany city officials have already stipulated that whomever the casino developer is, a surcharge in excess of $3 million each year will be assessed in addition to other revenue in order to pay for police and fire protection and increased usage of city infrastructure. Niagara Falls receives exactly zero.
Although a vote by the Albany Common Council isn't scheduled until May 5, the results are a foregone conclusion. Sources close to Albany city government tell the Niagara Falls Reporter that approval is certain, and then the real work of finding the highest bidder and wringing as much money out of them as possible can begin.
"People would riot in the streets if the city turned its back on this," said the source, who asked not to be identified. "Things are tough everywhere in upstate New York, and we need the money and we need the jobs."
There has been some opposition to the casino in Albany, just as there was in Niagara Falls. Increased crime, gambling addiction and other matters have been discussed at public hearings held on the project.
But Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan has thrown her support behind the casino initiative.
"People have concerns obviously about problem gambling," she said. "But I also talked about the importance of creating jobs."
And Marlon Anderson, who will oppose Sheehan in the November election, is also enthusiastic about the project.
"It could be a game-changer for the city of Albany in the way Global Foundries was a game-changer for Malta and the racino was a game-changer for Saratoga Springs," said Anderson, a former city mayoral candidate and community activist.
The state Gaming Commission released its request for applications two weeks ago. Included in its 80 pages is a detailed list of what's required from operators, like proof of local support from the community, which includes "a resolution passed by the local legislative body of its host municipality supporting the application."
Prospective operators are required to pay a $1 million application fee by April 23. The final deadline for the full application is June 30. The Seneca Nation of Indians, of course, paid nothing to "apply" as operators of the gifted Niagara Falls Casino.
The Albany casino would have a 60,000-square-foot-to-70,000-square-foot gaming floor; 350-room hotel; restaurants; indoor horse riding rink; outdoor trails; and an indoor water park bigger than the one at Great Escape in Lake George, sources said.
A tale of two cities: The heartbreaking one in Niagara Falls and the soon to be success story in Albany, where Niagara Falls residents send their exorbitant tax money only to never see it again.
The longer Mayor Paul Dyster spends warming his behind in the plush leather chair he bought to sit in at his Niagara Falls City Hall office, the more he begins looking like the elderly nun, former Mayor Irene Elia, who served as his political mentor.
His successful initiative to spend $50,000 of your money to join the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise organization is a case in point.
Elia's disastrous policies, comic pratfalls, and lack of basic common sense led to her then-record landslide loss to Vince Anello in 2004.
But, when she was elected in 1999, so toowas an affable, if not particularly adroit, councilman named Paul Dyster.
Dyster championed each and every one of Elia's cockamamie ideas about how the city should be run, and each had close ties to a pair of mysterious Erie County organizations: The Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP) and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise (BNE), which shared offices at the same Main Street, Buffalo, address, board members and much, much more.
The BNP and BNE's prime directive seems to have been the subjugation of Niagara Falls for Buffalo, turning the Cataract City into a plantation from which creepy businessmen from the Nickel City could extract wealth.
First Elia and now Dyster supported their efforts in full. And now Dyster's at it again.
Last week, Dyster gained Council approval for $50,000 to join the BNE. The $50,000 will come from the $89 million in casino revenue the city received following the state's resolution of the long-running dispute with the owners of the Seneca Niagara Casino, the Seneca Nation of Indians.
The windfall burned such a hole in Dyster's pocket that little is left, but that is another story. Suffice to say that the mayor found enough behind the couch cushions to pay the BNE membership fee.
Why he would want to do that is another matter. The archives of the Niagara Falls Reporter are chockablock with reports of misdeeds and debacles perpetrated by the BNE and BNP, including but not limited to:
Support for nthe Spanish-based multinational corporation Cintra to take over the Niagara Falls International Airport. The proposal, vehemently opposed by then U.S. Rep. John LaFalce and editorialists at this newspaper, fell apart on its own following Sept. 11, 2001, when everyone realized that handing an airport that also serves as a military air base over to foreigners was just nuts.
The BNP/BNE sought to close Buffalo Children's Hospital in 2003. We all know how that turned out. Tens of thousands of angry parents took to the streets, while local newspaper articles exposed the fact that at least one of the hospital's board members was benefiting personally from the deal and that the corporation's top management executives were paying themselves millions in bonuses while crying poor to the people.
In 2003 Buffalo interests sought to derail a $22 million proposal to build a new terminal and make other improvements at Niagara Falls International Airport. They argued that an airport in the falls might threaten business at the Buffalo Niagara airport, where the cost of jet fuel and landing fees were among the highest in the nation.
Again, the BNP/BNE failed.
In 2006 the BNP/BNE endorsed plans by a company called NRG Huntley to build a clean coal-burning power plant in Tonawanda. Huntley is competing with AES, which already runs such a plant in Somerset, for the $1 billion in new public and private investment and creation of 1,200 long-term construction jobs for the winning bidder. For those who don't know, Tonawanda is in Erie County, while Somerset is in Niagara County. And for those who need to have a picture drawn, the incomes of both the Partnership and the BNE derive significantly from moneyed interests in Erie County. The BNP/BNE won this round, and Niagara County lost more than $1 billion and nhundreds of jobs.
Also in 2006 the BNE secretly attempted to lure the German chemical giant Wacker Chemie away from a Niagara County site it had selected for a new plant to a location in Erie County. The effort had to be kept secret, since the BNE was being paid $50,000 by the Niagara County Legislature to bring the company here. The Germans became weary of the cloak and dagger and decided to build the plant back in Germany.
It is widely suspected that the BNP/BNE was behind the creation of the "Building a Better Niagara" slush fund that would have given Dyster $1 million, collected from donors whose identities were never revealed. The purported purpose of the fund was to allow Dyster to have better candidates to fill top city positions. The City Council torpedoed the ethically challenged gifting, even though the salaries were raised anyway.
Interestingly, Mark Hamister serves as a BNE board member and former chairman and is heavily involved in backroom Niagara Falls dealings. The taxpayer-subsidized hotel he was supposed to have broken ground on this month has yet to materialize, and more and more it seems as though he is looking for more in government handouts in order to get the project started, a tune he has played in the past.
The proposed hotel, which was supposed to have been built at the corner of Rainbow Boulevard North and Mayor O'Laughlin Blvd - just 300 feet from the Niagara Falls State Park, became a hot button issue in last year's City Council races, when longtime Council Member Sam Fruscione – an opponent of the giveaway -- went down in a primary election loss to Andy Touma, cousin of Dyster's campaign manager Craig Touma.
Is Dyster's proposal for the city to join the BNE simply a ploy to garner additional taxpayer handouts for the cash strapped Hamister?
What other reason could there be? The BNP/BNP cabal has long been hostile to Niagara County in general and Niagara Falls in particular.
And aside from that, they're not even very successful on their own turf in Erie County, as the Buffalo Children's Hospital fiasco showed.
Certainly some secret agenda is at play, or Dyster has grown too senile to remember the century's dawn, when a little former nun named Elia threw her lot in with the Buffalo interests as well.
|Why did Mayor Paul Dyster ask taxpayers to fund a Buffalo group?