When the DiCienzo family officially opened the Rainforest Café at its Sheraton Hotel downtown, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster did everything possible to convey the impression that he’d all but built the place using his own bare hands.
There he was in front of the cameras, cutting the ribbon himself before taking to the podium and delivering some long winded remarks. Then, in front of television cameras and lowly print journalists scribbling in notebooks, he repeated the same things he’d just got done saying.
What wasn’t mentioned at the ceremony was that the Rainforest Café was to have been one of the centerpieces of the DiCienzo’s $90 million proposed redevelopment of the long moribund Rainbow Center Mall, a proposal Dyster had a hand in rejecting.
The developer picked for the former mall was a partnership made up of the Delaware North and Uniland companies, which proposed a $150 million project, with $75 million of that coming from the local, state and federal taxpayer.
In recent weeks, reports of acrimony between Delaware North and Uniland suggest the project may not go off as planned.
The Rainforest Café is an upscale international chain of restaurants. The DiCienzo’s already own and operate one in Niagara Falls, Ont., and enjoy a good relationship with the corporate heads. The 14,000-square-foot downtown location can seat 238 in the dining room and another 60 on the patio.
The restaurant cost $3.5 million to build, with just $150,000 of that coming through the city’s NFC Development Corp.
Uniland and Delaware North have created exactly zero jobs here, despite the promise of $75 million and neither has do nothing developer Mark Hamister, whose proposed downtown hotel has yet to materialize in spite of his being approved to receive millions in taxpayer funding for his now $36 million imaginary project.
Unlike Hamister or Uniland, the DiCienzos have been doing business on both sides of the Niagara River here for many years and are known to run a hands on, can do company. What the Ontario-based company lacks is the political clout the Americans have amassed through campaign contributions and other means.
“We really believe in the market and understand the market and what’s missing in the current marketplace is a high quality family attraction and restaurant,” said company President Michael DiCienzo. “The Rainforest Café is a high quality restaurant and a fantastic attraction for families.”
Bordering on the incomprehensible, Dyster got his two cents in as well.
“When it’s warm and sunny in Niagara Falls, there’s lots of things for people to do,” he said. “But when thunderclouds appear on the horizon, even if it’s Fourth of July weekend or when the sun goes down, or God forbid if you’re here in January or February and it turns a little bit cold, it’s always fantastic to have some place for people to go, where you can especially find entertainment for the family.”
In his rush to appease his political masters in Buffalo, Albany and Washington D.C., Dyster was instrumental in rejecting the DiCienzo’s Rainbow Center proposal, forcing the family to build it themselves on property they already owned.
He forgot about the families and the thunderclouds appearing on the horizon and thought only of political advantage and endorsing a plan called Woinderfalls that now seems to be falling apart like a cardboard suitcase in the rain.