Declaring 50 acres around it "sovereign territory," Albany closed the Niagara Falls Convention Center and sold it for a dollar to the Seneca Nation of Indians to convert to a Tribal Casino.
We got in return the promise of spin off development.
The city would be a magnet for new businesses as people coming to the casino, money in pocket, would spend it in our exciting and glamorous city.
And we would get a slice of the net drop from slot machines too.
Eleven years later, the city has gotten $183 million in slot machine revenue, almost all of it went into the present mayor's hands.
It could have been cast to the winds.
And the spin off never happened.
Did anyone really think a city could grow rich from the net drop of a business bent on sucking money from the wallets of people all sitting like ducks in rows before low payback percentage slot machines in a smoke filled casino?
The city is poorer today than in 2003, when the Seneca's opened their doors.
And just our luck - $183 million - into one man's control. Mayor Paul Dyster might have done something with $183 million for the regular people. Something they could have seen or felt or touched. But what do we have? What does he have to show for such a colossal disappearance of money? The city is worse off. Everyone knows it.
Look around and judge for yourself.
But there is one among us who is not worse off.
Let us turn kindly to the once poor and benighted, and now rich Senecas.
The business model of any casino is to lure customers inside and keep them inside and drain them of money.
Outside the tax free territory that was once our city, the taxpaying, small businesses groan and muddle through a procession of bleak days: High taxes, and utilities, mean streets, and pot hole laden - and no tax relief in sight. Their longtime customers veer away from them to the brighter lights of the casino to hold their events and parties and dine and wine with friends - and colleagues - in the shiny, shimmering, sparkling new and glamorous tax free casino.
Compared to the old, worn with age, and blasted by taxes, and by contempt from the state and city officials - the old Niagara Falls' businesses look pretty shabby no doubt.
But they are the ones who paid the salaries of all those government officials for decades.
Had the Pine Ave., the Main St., the Niagara St., businessmen been tax free who knows what they would have become?
And of course there is simple economics - thousands of locals go to the casino to gamble to spend their entertainment dollars that otherwise they might have spent with businesses in the city. Some of them spend money that would have otherwise gone to pay rent, food and clothing for their children.
Nearest the casino is a street of vacant buildings. Before the casino and its storied spin off, Niagara St., was alive with businesses.
Missed in the equation, while listening to the suctioning sound of wealth being transferred to the casino, and the mayor telling the people of what he has in store for them in the future - the fruits of his $183 million of casino cash coming ripe - is that the loss of the convention center cost us an incalculable financial loss. And a loss of civic pride.
The city no longer has the ability to gather a large crowd in one place - and hold them for a couple of hours or a couple of days.
From 1973 to 2002, the Convention Center saw a cavalcade of events that packed hotels on off season weekends. Ten thousand like- minded people could gather for an event.
Many came from out of the area - attracted to our location because it gave convention attendees an added attraction - of seeing Niagara Falls.
The convention center was the largest off-season tourist attraction in the city.
|Stills and Young at NF Convention Center.
Organizers repeatedly chose Niagara Falls as their location over boring Buffalo for instance.
And as a fitting touch of irony - the cheaters proof - the cherry atop an insane sundae - in Buffalo they hyphenated our name - as if we married them but didn't know it. The Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center holds 8,000 people. Absent one here, big conventions that might have come here now have the Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center on Main St., in Buffalo, where they advertise its a few minutes drive to the Falls.
And as for concerts - here another irony - the Seneca Casino has concerts here - in their 2400-seat Events Center.
But there are many who remember the big concert nights, of ten thousand people and more coming into town for a name act concert and, afterward, pouring into restaurants and staying at hotels.
The names jump out from out of the past - it will remain in the past -because we gave it away for a dollar.
But they were here, night after night: Eric Clapton and Santana on the same stage. Alice Cooper, The Moody Blues, Black Sabbath, Rush, Julio Iglesias, Cher, The Highwaymen, Foghat, Supertramp, Barry Manilow, Phish, Jefferson Starship, Robin Trower, Black Sabbath, Peter Frampton, Rick Derringer, Van Halen, Billy Squire/Nazareth, Deep Purple, David Bowie, Bob Seger, The Doobie Brothers, Uriah Heep, Manfred Mann, The J. Giels Band, Aerosmith, Johnny Winter, Grand Funk Railroad, Chicago, Seals and Croft, Ted Nugent, Bachman Turner Overdrive, REO Speedwagon, Stills-Young Band, Blue Oyster Cult, Sly and the Family Stone, Kiss, the Beach Boys, the Ojays, The Grateful Dead, ZZ Top, Bon Jovi, Johnny Cash, John Denver, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull - on a two level stage, with Ian Anderson above - the upper stage lighted, it seemed, so that their album cover - of Melbourne at night - seemed to be a living city.
Frank Sinatra - May 12. 1990.
Elvis Presley - June 24, 1974 - for two shows - at 3pm and 8.30pm - and two shows again - at 2.30pm and 8.30pm on July 13, 1975.
The big show now is the Senecas.
And while people had to pay for a ticket back then to see Elvis or Sinatra, the Seneca's promise better: something for nothing.
Their slot machines are waiting, calibrated to encourage, as they say in the business, "time on device" and "play to extinction".
Those hoping to hit the jackpot, have an equal chance. Slots don't get hot or cold. Slot machine jackpots don't become due. The slot machine generates random numbers. Its payback percentages predetermined. Every bet on every slot offers a lower payout than the actual odds of winning.
From wallets, purses and pockets and bank accounts of the players - with ATMs conveniently located on the gaming floor - comes the difference between payouts and money deposited into some 3000 slots machines, open 24 hours, 365 days of the year.
As an estimate, considering the percentage of their net drop the Seneca's have paid to the state (and city) - $4 billion has been lost in slot machines since the Seneca Casino opened and into the hands of Seneca Gaming Corp.
It's how casinos do business. To give nothing for something. Win on people's losses.
Among the losses of this city, its people might count the convention center among the bigger of its nothing-for-something losses.