By Tony Farina;
It appears that Niagara Falls Councilmember Kristen Grandinetti may have spoken too soon at Tuesday’s council meeting when she told opponents of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for a “world class lodge” on Goat Island that the governor had backed off the proposal he unveiled last month at one of his State of the State speeches in Amherst.
Opponents of the Goat Island lodge plan applauded after Grandinetti said she had received a text message from a Cuomo aide that more locations and proposals will be offered, adding “this tells us they were listening to us,” a reference to the strong opposition the controversial proposal had generated from residents and elected officials across the region.
But wait, it turns out the Goat Island lodge plan is not quite dead, says Councilmember Andrew Touma.
“It now appears Goat Island is not dead and remains a possibility,” said Touma on Wednesday after Cuomo’s economic development chief said in a statement that Goat Island is still in the picture.
“There will be an RFP (request for proposals) issued that includes multiple locations for consideration for a lodge within the four state parks in Niagara Falls, including Goat Island,” said Howard Zemsky, president of Empire State Development. “There will be a robust public input period for the public to weigh in how best to proceed.”
So it appears that whoever is pushing the “world class lodge” plan—probably a politically connected developer—is not backing away from putting a tax-free lodge in one of the Niagara Falls state parks, if not Goat Island because of the strong opposition.
The other parks are Whirlpool, Devil’s Hole, and DeVeaux Woods.
“We had more than 20 speakers Tuesday night at the council meeting expressing their opposition to putting a lodge on Goat Island that would compete with downtown businesses,” said Touma. “We unanimously passed a resolution against the plan in favor of preserving the natural state of the park and against something that would benefit the state, not the city. But despite the text that Councilmember Grandinetti received, I guess it is still under consideration.”
Grandinetti told Ch. 2 News she considers the governor’s new plan to offer additional proposals a partial victory although many of the concerns expressed by citizens and elected officials alike about a Goat Island lodge may still apply to another state park, given it would be exempt from city taxes and would compete unfairly with other businesses and lure visitors away from the city.
Zemsky is clearly Cuomo’s unquestioned development chief, and when he issues a statement that there will be an RFP, you can rest assured that the governor has not backed away from building a world-class lodge in one of the state parks.
All this brings to mind the state’s strong-armed political efforts to win approval for a hotel project for Buffalo developer Mark Hamister on Rainbow Blvd. in Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Falls City Council back in September of 2013 finally caved in to political pressure (much of it from the governor), sold the prime downtown parcel to the politically-connected Hamister for a song, and then watched for the next four years as Hamister tried to raise the money to build the “signature” hotel that had been promised by state and city officials. It wasn’t until last July when Goldman Sachs came up with $24 million that Hamister–who got the coveted bid without any financing in place–was able to finally say we’re ready to go. Ground was broken in the fall.
One is left to wonder who is behind the governor’s latest plan to save Niagara Falls, this time with a lodge in one of the state parks with Goat Island possibly still the preferred site since it is still in play despite fierce local opposition.
What big player has the governor’s ear on building a “world-class lodge” in a Niagara Falls State Park that will have a big advantage over businesses downtown that pay taxes? My guess is we’ll know soon by who gets the bid, but remember the process that selected Hamister was conducted behind closed doors so the bid may be awarded before the public finds out.