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Dyster Sold Public on NACC, Lost Valuable Mall Project

By Mike Hudson

The NACC building, at the corner of Pine Avenue and Portage Road.
“Niagara Falls is a regional pariah that people avoid.”
- Kathie Kudela, NACC Executive Director, Lewiston resident, Feb 4th, 2013.
Two “artists” in front of the NACC building.
Kathie Kudela and Mayor Dyster walk the corridors of the NACC building, which was a former high school. (Photo courtesy: Niagara Gazette.)
Inside one of the NACC classrooms, Troma International films a scene for their film, ‘Return to Nuke ’Em High.’ (Photo courtesy: Troma International.)

(Editor's note: While the writer makes some strong criticism of the NACC, in his own inimitable way; they are his own opinions. It is the opinion of this publication that the tenants at the NACC are not to be blamed for taxpayers being burdened to the tune of $825,000 to support the place. In fact, most tenants are paying rent, and not getting any direct taxpayer subsidy. In short, they are likely doing the best they can. What we object to is the idea that the taxpayer should be burdened to support the NACC or any artist. This may mean that the artists and tenants of the NACC may have to help shoulder more of the costs of the place. And there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed it strikes us as being quite healthy for both art and the city taxpayer.)

The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center – NACC for short – is what they now call the old Niagara Falls High School at the corner of Pine Avenue and Portage Road. The massive building is currently home to fewer than 70 “artists,” who produce who-knows–what, at tremendous cost to city taxpayers, who were told at the beginning that it would never cost them a dime.

Clearly, this was not true. The preservation of the dilapidated old high school that provides subsidized studio space has cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

More than $1 million of that was lost when Benderson Development, which had entered into an agreement to buy the property from the school district, was shown the door by then-Mayor Irene Elia, acting along with a City Council majority headed up by former Councilman Paul Dyster.

Benderson had planned on building a strip mall on the property, which would have paid real estate taxes and provided more than 100 jobs. But Dyster and Elia had little interest in bringing money into the city’s coffers; they wanted to spend money instead.

So as soon as Benderson was told to take his money-making, tax-paying strip mall and build it in Amherst, Dyster came back and asked for another half-million in city tax dollars to put a new roof on top of the ramshackle old school building.

He swore up, down, and sideways that the city would never have to put another dime into the NACC. He misled the taxpayers, because since then an additional $325,000 has been given to the NACC to house the tattooists, jewelers, religious organizations, psychic readers, marketing specialists and other artists who have had their rent and other expenses subsidized by the hardworking citizens of Niagara Falls.

Combining the $825,000 given outright to the organization by city government with Benderson’s rejected $1 million offer for the property and all of the real estate tax revenue lost to the school district, city and county since 2005 brings the actual cost of the NAAC to something over $5 million.

Last week, it seemed like all 60-some “artists, their families and friends showed up at the council chambers to protest a proposed cut of $30,000 of NACC funding during the coming year.

They came and they talked. And they talked and they talked.
Some of those speakers brought their young, cute, children to the podium as live props while they threatened to drive the three offending council members who voted to cut the waste -- Glenn Choolokian, Bob Anderson and Sam Fruscione -- from office.

Children should never be used as gimmicks in a political forum, especially in a typically nasty Niagara Falls mud wrestling match.

The overall argument of the group went something like this: “You’ve given us money in the past, we’re used to having it, but if you withdraw it now, we’ll run you out of office!”

The respectful arguments of Choolokian, Anderson and Fruscione that the well had run dry, tough times are upon us and we wish you well, but the money isn’t there, fell on deaf ears. I’m always amazed at how people are happy to grab some public dollars with not so much as a thank you, but when the cash goes dry, they want to hang the offending elected official from the nearest Pine Avenue lamp post.

And what about that money? Speaker after speaker repeated the Dyster argument that “these aren’t taxpayer dollars.” Some of the funds are bed tax dollars derived from those who stay overnight in our hotels.

In the world of a public-dollar-spending-fiend like Dyster, a taxpayer dollar is literally a dollar that came from a taxpayer pocket through a tax bill. In Dyster’s world, state and federal awards or grants, Greenway money, NYPA allotments, Casino revenue and literally every other source of income is not a “taxpayer dollar,” and is therefore, free game for abusive spending.
But we disagree.

We are fully aware that every dollar, however it gets into the city coffers, is a taxpayer dollar. Those dollars belong to the city and the city taxpayer. You don’t assign varying levels of responsibility to the spending of public dollars depending upon where they came from.

What is not spent here could be spent somewhere else and save the taxpayers money.

But the angry people that spoke didn’t realize one thing, as their handlers led them into the room. They weren’t thinking of the law of unintended consequences. With all of the friendly press they’d been receiving, they never counted on the other side being heard.

But we’ve been receiving phone calls and emails from that other side. The taxpayer’s side. Taxpayers want relief. They want lower taxes.

They are not convinced that there best use of their hard earned money should go to perpetually subsidize not for profit organizations like NACC.

The NACC may very well be very creative and groovy and '60's-ish,' a real blast from the past, sort of. Sounds like a lot of fun. And maybe, just maybe, some good or, who knows, maybe great art may be created there.

We hope so.

But lost in all of this silly, needless drama of the council chambers is the true tale of how a three-member council majority has acted as the adult in the Dyster Romper Room by reducing spending.

They cut the city subsidy to USA Niagara, they eliminated the Hard Rock subsidy and they staved off the Dyster tax increases for businesses and homeowners and then stopped the Dyster administration from taking a disastrous NYPA settlement.

They’ve asked the tough - unpopular - questions about the train station, the Underground Railroad project, and they’ve been working to solve the riddle of the costly consulting contracts that never seem to end.

At the end of the day, the NACC will survive. By their own admission, that $30,000, courtesy of city taxpayers, is but a fraction of their operating budget. Which raises the question: if it was such a small portion of the organization’s outlay, why did they find it necessary to go all medieval on the city council majority to begin with?

That’s a question for the NACC’s biggest cheerleader, Paul Dyster, to answer.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 12 , 2013