Last week, the Buffalo News reported on Niagara Falls Redevelopment, and its owner, Manhattan banker/developer Howard Milstein.
Their report was this: Milstein said he will not be attempting to buy the Buffalo Bills when it goes on the market but that his land in downtown Niagara Falls is available for a new stadium for the Bills.
"We are prepared to put substantial personal and business resources behind that effort, including our land in Niagara Falls, but this does not include participating in the sales process or making a bid to purchase the team," Milstein said in a written statement.
Milstein owns 440 small parcels of land totaling 85 acres in downtown Niagara Falls, which his company began acquiring in the late 1990s.
His company, Niagara Falls Redevelopment, may (or may not) still have first option rights to another 57 acres through a contract with the city. Their land is adjacent to the Seneca Nation's casino and close to the falls.
The News also noted that "Milstein and his wife donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to New York politicians over the past 10 years, including hefty campaign contributions to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who in 2011 made Milstein the head of the Thruway system."
After the initial report, the editorial board of the News let readers know what they thought of Milstein and the prospect of him buying the Bills:
"Whew. Western New York dodged a bullet this week when un-developer Howard Milstein announced that he is not interested in buying the Buffalo Bills. Milstein, of course, is the owner of acres and acres of property in downtown Niagara Falls – prime land that he has sat on for years, doing nothing.
"He'd like to put a new stadium for the Bills there, even though he's not interested in owning the team. Milstein is also the chairman of the state Thruway Authority and led an unsuccessful charge to raise tolls a couple of years ago.
"Thus, it seems fair to predict that, as Bills owner, Milstein would do nothing to develop the team, would raise tolls on the Grand Island Bridges and probably hike ticket prices, too. Who needs it?"
Despite Milstein's offer last week to sell land he owns for the Bills, the Niagara Falls Reporter wrote, two weeks ago, why we believed the Buffalo Bills are not going to come to downtown Niagara Falls in a stadium built on land owned by Niagara Falls Redevelopment.
Our reason is traffic. The area could never accept the volume of traffic a stadium crowd would necessitate.
But, the question arises: What is Niagara Falls Redevelopment's land worth? Its owners say it worth over $100 million.
At $100 million, the owners are estimating their 85 acres at $1.17 million per acre.
These acres are vacant - the last remnants of hundreds of demolished homes that used to sit on 30-b-100 foot lots.
Vacant lots in the city are worth about $1,000 per lot. If there are 15 of these per acre, an acre is worth about $15,000.
For 85 acres, at $15,000 per acre, the land is worth less than $2 million.
Since the lots are contiguous, they're worth more- if somebody can figure out what to do with them. So far in 16 years nobody has.
To be generous, if you quadruple the value, that makes the land worth $8 million. If you add a few million for the obsolete, asbestos-laden Nabisco Building, and the weather-damaged, mold-filled, misfit Turtle building (both of which are candidates for the wrecking ball), the total of Niagara Falls Redevelopment's holdings are $12 million -one eighth of the company's estimate.
Doubtlessly, Milstein once planned on flipping the property to the Senecas or someone else, maybe on the taxpayers' dime.
But the Senecas have not built out their 50 acres in 10 years.
It was in the 1990's, that Niagara Falls Redevelopment and the city struck a deal to make Milstein the "preferred developer" which gave him the exclusive right to buy all land in downtown Niagara Falls that was within the boundaries of Portage Rd, Buffalo Ave., Niagara St. and John Daly Blvd., in return for his promise that he would develop that land under strict time lines that expired more than a decade ago.
Sixteen years have passed and he's never developed anything.
He has just sat on the land.
Try to understand the special legal treatment a "preferred developer" is given: The City of Niagara Falls granted Milstein the sole right to buy land within the above mentioned boundaries, forcing some 500 owners who owned property to sell only to him, making their properties worth only what his Niagara Falls Redevelopment wanted to pay.
It was in effect the City of Niagara Falls forcing the sale to only one buyer, or hold out in what became virtually a ghost town, as other neighbors sold. Once Milstein acquired a home, his policy was to demolish it so that Niagara Falls Redevelopment wouldn't have to pay higher property taxes assessed on a home, but only the much lower tax payment levied on an empty vacant lot.
The Buffalo News had it right about the Buffalo Bills and Milstein. But it is high time for Niagara Falls Redevelopment (even the name, so pretentious - sounds today, after 16 years, like a mockery) and Niagara Falls to part.