Choolokian Says City Can Save on Demolitions
By Mike Hudson
One of the biggest problems facing Niagara Falls today is the number of vacant, vandalized and abandoned buildings that are found in almost every neighborhood and serve as breeding grounds for criminal activity as well as being public health hazards.
Currently, the cost to the city of demolishing an average 1,500-square-foot residence is around $22,000, a figure that Councilman Glenn Choolokian says is simply too high.
Choolokian tells the Niagara Falls Reporter that the cost could be slashed by as much as two-thirds if the city did the demolition work in-house, rather than relying on outside contractors.
“If we can do it cheaper, why not do it?” Choolokian asked. “This is something I’m going to pursue.” His numbers stack up to industry standards. All over the nation, as a simple search of the internet proves, contractors are demolishing similar homes for a fraction of that amount.
The true cost for residential demolition per square foot is between $4-per-foot to $7-per-foot for houses. That means the average Niagara Falls residence could be demolished for $6,000- $10,500.
Nobody knows for sure, but somewhere between 450 and 600 former residences and businesses now sit abandoned and in need of demolition in Niagara Falls.
Currently, what demolitions the city does are contracted out to private firms like Regional Environmental Demolition (RED), an outfit run by deposed Laborers Local 91 leader Rico Liberale.
Choolokian said he had a meeting with Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, and his director of Code Compliance, Dennis Virtuoso, in early March to try and bring them on board.
“It’s frustrating,” Choolokian told the Reporter. “If it’s not the mayor's idea, he doesn’t want to hear about it. But this isn’t about who gets the credit, it’s about trying to save the taxpayers some significant money.”
Choolokian's proposal would see the Department of Public Works handling the demolitions and, with the lower cost, the city could do up to three times as many demolitions for the same amount of money.
“I’ve talked to people who know demolition, people who are in the business,” he said. “And they’ve told me this work can be done in-house for 50-to-70 percent cheaper than what we’re paying now.” Annual savings to the city would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Choolokian said.
Ironically, Dick Palladino, business manager of Laborers Local #91 – whose landslide 2010 election victory led to RED owner, Liberale’s overthrow – volunteered union demolition training classes free of charge to city workers should the Choolokian plan be adopted.
He knows the city is paying far too much for demolitions.
“Look, it’s as simple as this. If the city of Niagara Falls isn’t successful, there is no development and no work for our members,” Palladino said. “For that reason alone, we’re interested in helping as much as we can.” Choolokian said that, once the in-house demolition program was up and running, there was a great likelihood that other municipalities and even private developers would contract with the city to perform demolitions more cheaply than what is now available through companies such as RED.
“Not only could we be saving money on our own demolitions, we could be bringing in badly needed revenue,” he said. “To me it’s a win-win.”
To Dyster, however, it is something else entirely. A good idea he didn’t have and the loss of a lucrative contract for a political crony.
Choolokian said that the fiscal situation under the Dyster regime has grown so desperate that it is time to put politics aside.
“We’re looking at a budget crisis, not down the road sometime, but right here and right now,” he said. “We need to examine any avenue we can to cut costs and generate additional revenue.”
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