What is it about Niagara Falls?
Why is it that other communities in the region such as Amherst and even those directly adjacent like the Town of Niagara boast booming economies, population growth and comparatively low property taxes while Niagara Falls languishes?
If you had to put it in a word, that word would be "Leadership."
While Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster is busy stroking his ego by throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Hard Rock Café to stage terrible rock concerts at which he can play "celebrity host," and wasting millions of dollars funding public housing projects that serve to attract undesirables from all across the nation, the leaders of nearby communities occupy themselves attracting private enterprise.
It's a simple difference in philosophy. Dyster's counterparts elsewhere realize that, in the end, the free market always wins.
In the Town of Niagara, former Supervisor Steve Richards worked closely with the management of the Fashion Outlet Mall, encouraging the further development of an already successful local business.
The result? A $71 million, 50-store expansion that will provide hundreds of permanent new jobs and new tax revenue to the township.
The addition will be connected to the rear of the current mall located at 1900 Military Road. It will include a new entrance off of Fashion Outlets Boulevard where it runs parallel to the I-190 expressway, leading to a new mall entrance with canopy shelter and a generous drop-off space. Today, there are 150 stores at the mall; the plans for the addition include 50 new stores, with space for two large department stores.
The existing mall is on 41 acres; adding the former Sabre Park mobile home property will bring it to 73.3 acres. Added parking will be above industry standard and include an area for 40 bus parking stalls.
The mall, which was bought by California-based Macerich from AWE Talisman in 2011 for $200 million, is adding 175,000 square feet as part of a major interior and exterior renovation.
The expansion will make the mall the 20th largest in the United States. They said the local property needs to expand so it can compete with a large mall project in the planning stages at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
New stores will include American Eagle, Aerie, Asics, Clarks, Crocs, Destination Maternity, Disney, Forever 21, Gold Toe, Helly Hansen, IT'SUGAR, Janie & Jack, Kenneth Cole, Merrell, NY & Co, Perfumania, Perry Ellis, Spencer's Gifts, Steve Madden, Swarovski, Talbot's, The Body Shop, The Limited and White House Black Market.
The mall was first proposed by Benderson Development in the mid-1990s for construction on Niagara Street in the city, land now part of the Seneca Nation of Indians 50 -acre casino parcel.
The late Jake Palillo, who was mayor at the time, single handedly torpedoed the deal, a decision he maintained to be the correct one until the day he died, despite near universal criticism.
Benderson took the project out to the Town of Niagara, where new development was more highly valued. Thus began a 20-year success story that is culminating in the new Fashion Outlets expansion.
Meanwhile, in the city that was supposed to have been the site of the mall, the land on which it was to have been built remains fallow. You could plant corn on it.
Palillo gave way to Jim Galie, who was followed by Irene Elia and then Vince Anello in the mayor's office here. And then there was Dyster.
Outside of government, Dyster has never held a real job. And even his record of sucking at the public teat prior to his 2007 election as mayor is spotty. His family has enough money to have a wing of the hospital named after them so Dyster never had to face the harsh realities encountered daily by most of his constituents.
Asked once why he chose to locate his hobby beer making business in Tonawanda rather than his beloved Niagara Falls he was honest enough to say that the business climate in his hometown stank worse than a case Genesee Cream Ale left out in the sun too long.
But he has done little to improve it during his nearly seven years in office.
His idea of prime development in the city he governs is the Covanta waste incineration plant, where dead babies in the form of aborted fetuses are burned along with hazardous and municipal waste and who knows what else trucked in from Canada, New York City and elsewhere. The plant, located in what was once a nice residential neighborhood, has had nearby residents dealing with endless truck traffic, rat infestations and the endless pollution spewing from its smokestacks.
Likewise, taxpayer funded, low income public housing is seen as a growth industry by Dyster in spite of the fact that upwards of 30 percent of the currently available privately owned housing units on the market in the city are vacant.
He has backed various schemes, most notably the conversion of South Junior High School on Portage Road and the Housing Visions project on Walnut Avenue, that would further increase the city's population of generational welfare recipients, drug abusers and other solid citizens.
His plan to attract recent college grads by paying them to take the place of those similarly qualified longtime residents who have fled the city in order to get away from public housing projects and waste incineration plants, has been an utter failure.
Even retail development in the former Rainbow Center Mall, a facility partly given over to Niagara County Community College for use as its culinary school, has been wholly given over to faceless government bureaucrats at the state's USA Niagara Development. Bureaucrats, who never earned a dime in the private sector, decide which developer will be gifted with taxpayer money and decide what he will develop and how it will be developed.
While the private sector jobs created by the Fashion Outlets mall expansion in the Town of Niagara upscale and retail oriented, any jobs Niagara Falls picks up will be in the publicly funded fields of social work, law enforcement and charity health care.
While Dyster was re-elected to a second term by a brain dead majority of Niagara Falls voters, city residents with any desirable skills to market are voting increasingly with their feet.
As neighboring communities and states prosper and grow, Niagara Falls and New York in general, increasingly driven by the welfare state ethos and the nanny state mentality that goes with it, continue to shrink and wither.