A developer from Ellicottville wants a public handout to create an indoor-outdoor temporary market on Old Falls Street this holiday season.
The developer, one Mark Rivers of Brix and Company -- a company based in Idaho, while Rivers himself lives, at least part time, in Ellicottville -- wants the city and state to pony up nearly a half-million dollars so he can build temporary booths to run a "holiday" vendors market and reap the profit.
Mayor Paul Dyster wants the city to contribute $225,000 of public money to Rivers' cause. At first blush, it seems like corporate welfare along the lines of the Hard Rock concert series, where public money was given to a billion-dollar for-profit corporation without a shred of evidence that it brought financial benefit to anyone other than Hard Rock Inc.
The indoor-outdoor market project, which will allegedly cost around $1 million to develop, calls for spaces for 80 vendors offering foods and goods. It would commence Nov. 26 and conclude Jan. 1, 2012, grabbing a share of the Christmas shopping business, perhaps snatching it from other stores in the area that do not get public money to open up their shops. Dyster hopes to use Seneca casino funds.
It is Dyster's contention, as he often says, that casino money is not taxpayer money, therefore its use as, for instance, corporate welfare, is painless to working, tax-paying people.
But is it?
Seneca pays no property tax, sales tax or income tax on any of their businesses.
The casino revenue is in effect their payment in lieu of taxes.
Seneca competes for entertainment dollars that otherwise would have been spent with taxpaying local businesses.
High-taxed, American-owned Niagara Falls businesses compete, in the same businesses -- hotels, restaurants, bars, retail outlets -- against tax-free Seneca businesses.
Since Seneca businesses pay no taxes, they keep more of what they earn, enabling them to reinvest and develop glimmering properties, while our hard-earned money goes to taxes, as our aging properties groan under the weight of heavy upkeep and narrow after-tax profits.
If the elegant Como Restaurant pays as much as $200,000 in combined taxes per year, and the Seneca Italian restaurant, la Cascata, pays zero, how many more customers must The Como seat before they make the $200,000 that the Seneca restaurant doesn't pay? The Como may have to seat 15,000 additional customers per year just to break even with their tax-free competition.
But Dyster says casino money comes at no cost to taxpayers.
Consider how many businesses have closed since Seneca came to compete with us in 2003.
Across the street from the casino, on Niagara Street -- the area we were promised would see economic spin-off first -- two thriving businesses, the Press Box and the Arterial Lounge, both closed within a year of the casino opening. Seven years later, most of the adjoining property is vacant and derelict.
Dozens of establishments have closed.
Show us the economic spin-off for anyone other than Seneca. Mayor Dyster likes to spend casino revenue to reward campaign contributors and do vanity projects like his Hard Rock concert series.
While we pay for these, he can claim he put on a series of concerts, "giving life" to downtown.
If we pay $225,000 for temporary booths on Old Falls Street, he can claim he brought us a holiday market downtown.
Mayor Dyster says the proposed market is designed to draw more traffic into the area during late fall and early winter.
Dyster claimed the $50,000 New Year's Eve concert last year with Hard Rock drew more than 12,000. He said that was designed to draw more traffic into the downtown area.
The Reporter proved that to be pure imagination -- if not an outright lie -- when, through Freedom of Information requests, we learned that only 225 cars parked in the municipally owned Rainbow parking ramp the night of the concert-- netting the city a mere $1,100.
Referring to giving Rivers $225,000 of our money, Dyster said, "It's something that could have a positive spin-off effect for businesses ... in the downtown areas."
An estimate provided to the City Council from the team of Dyster and Rivers claims that 250,000 people will come to the "holiday" market.
One suspects the cost of putting up simple vending booths and other temporary construction for a 36-day affair may actually be -- much like the Hard Rock concerts -- less than the public money invested in the project. Rivers, like Hard Rock, might walk away with a profit just from the nearly half-million he gets in public money, without selling one item.
Of course, we believe in an old-fashioned Americanism where it is not the responsibility of government to develop or partner in every development in a city.
I know it sounds quaint, but why can't Rivers use his own money, if he has any?
If the idea is good, he should fund it himself.
If it is not good, he should not do it, as opposed to asking us to fund his bad idea.
Again, Rivers and Dyster claim this indoor-outdoor market will draw 250,000 shoppers during the Christmas season.
If the average shopper spends $20, that means $5 million in gross revenue for Rivers' operation in little more than a month.
Why the subsidy?
Because Rivers is saying, in effect, if I can't get the public's money, I can't do the project.
Then don't do the project.
As for Rivers, the Boise Guardian wrote, "It's hard to decide whether he is 'smooth' or 'slick,'" a man who favors private/public partnerships, especially when the public comes up with all the money.
The Guardian called one of Rivers' developments "a public/public partnership," where Rivers apparently invests nothing, and reaps the profit, with no discernible tax benefit to the public.
The Guardian described another project, Rivers' plan to take six blocks from the city of Boise, then rent it back to the city for $2 million a year for a library, as "Library Scam."
The Boise Weekly, in an article entitled "Pie for Rivers," reported that the city's Urban Renewal agency was buying a lot that could not be built on for $200,000 in order to gift it to Rivers.
It's hard to find any project Rivers has done without public money.
This, of course, is right up Dyster's alley.
A slick developer from out of town, weaving on his loom a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible.
But every project for Dyster is a winner, as long as Dyster gets the credit.
Bread and circuses.
Hard Rock concerts and holiday markets.
It helps too if potential developers/corporate welfare recipients offer the mayor a little contribution to his re-election campaign.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 8, 2011|