As part of his “Buffalo Billion II,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this year that he had decided to purchase “distressed lands adjacent to Niagara Falls State Park” as part of a new “Strategic Land Acquisition Program” for the purpose of subsequent redevelopment, the idea being to spur economic growth locally and revitalize downtown Niagara Falls.
The targeted area essentially borders state parkland as it stretches along the south Scenic Moses Parkway and past Niagara Falls State Park, including buildings and vacant lots located on Rainbow Boulevard, Buffalo Avenue and Main Street, as well as Second and Third streets, comprising the former Native American Center for the Living Arts (aka “The Turtle”), the former Niagara Club and the One Niagara Building, among other properties.
Why it’s necessary, or even advisable, for state government to act as a middle man, purchasing downtown Niagara Falls properties outright, to then turn right around and sell them to someone else, is anyone’s guess. If the development potential for these various parcels was clear, wouldn’t it stand to reason that private sector entities are smart enough to figure that out on their own?
Since announcing the program last January, the governor made his first Niagara Falls real estate purchase last month, picking up a vacant lot at 305 Buffalo Avenue for $850,000 through his USA Niagara economic development agency.
Actually, while characterized by all concerned as “vacant,” in reality the one-acre plot is a lovely, green, forested oasis in the middle of a asphalt jungle, hemmed in on three sides by the Parkview Apartments parking lot, the Scenic Moses Parkway and Buffalo Avenue. With all the talk of “open space,” “pocket parks” and “healthy places” by the supposedly green Mayor Dyster and his compadre, Community Development director Seth Piccirillo, you’d think they’d have something to say about USA Niagara’s stated intention to subsidize construction of a lodge, or yet another hotel on the site.
In keeping with his predilection for doing favors for his wealthy powerful friends, Gov. Cuomo kept true to form on this deal, considering the individual who sold 305 Buffalo Ave. to the state was none other than James Glynn, owner of the Maid of the Mist.
Mr. Glynn pocketed an estimated $216,000 on the transaction, since it was reported in the Gazette that he had purchased the land for $634,000 back in 2008, with the intent of building a new Maid of the Mist corporate headquarters on the prime piece of real estate, overlooking the upper rapids of the Niagara River. That’s an annualized return for Mr. Glynn of approximately 3.3% which, while not exorbitant, is certainly more than most Niagara Falls real estate has appreciated over the past decade.
In his 2008 reveries, during which James Glynn dreamed of brand-spanking new, gleaming Maid of the Mist corporate offices overlooking the river, it’s possible he didn’t see the coming storm.
2008 also happens to be the year that Frank Parlato began an investigative reporting series exposing the crooked contractual agreement between the famed Maid of the Mist boat excursion of Niagara Falls and the Province of Ontario, Canada. The expose’ by Mr. Parlato, appearing in these pages over two years, resulted in a shake-up of massive proportions, reaching the highest levels of the Ontario provincial government.
The Canadian Niagara Parks Commission chairman and general manager both resigned in disgrace, its business development director along with four commissioners fired, and the remaining four members of the board “replaced” for secretly gifting a new lease to Maid of the Mist owner James Glynn, and then attempting to cover it up.
Needless to say, the corrupt Maid contract was cancelled and the Glynn family enterprise was unceremoniously given the boot out of Canada. In order to survive, Maid needed a new winter storage area and drydock, and needed it fast.
Since James Glynn is an intimate of Niagara Falls mayor Paul Dyster and major contributor to both his, and the governor’s, campaign coffers, the solution to Mr. Glynn’s predicament was fast-tracked, environment regulations and public oversight shelved, and a new drydock constructed by LP Ciminelli Construction, destroying what remained of the Schoellkopf Power Station, a National Register of Historic Places-nominated site.
Having gifted the Schoellkopf to him, and now taken 305 Buffalo Avenue off his hands, it can be said that Gov. Cuomo has done two huge favors for his good friend James Glynn.
It ultimately cost James Glynn $32 million to build his new Maid drydock on the Schoellkopf ruins in the Niagara Gorge, and he had to hire a bevy of lawyers to fight off challenges by a citizens’ group that contested the project on the abovementioned numerous grounds, a group that was labeled “self-haters” by Mayor Paul Dyster. Then, too, there was the loss of ridership from the Canadian side, which may have amounted to as much as 70% of Maid’s annual bottom line.
So, the net result was that James Glynn’s grandiose plans for 305 Buffalo Avenue crashed and burned.
Good thing Gov. Cuomo has stepped in to take that white elephant off his hands.