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Casino Sucked Life Out of Formerly Happening Entertainment Quarter

By Mike Hudson

Casino opened in 2003 with great fanfare and the promise that the spinoff development would revitalize the town. Not just the Seneca's property would see revitalization obviously, but that the whole town would get the spinoff. But it didn't happen as the photos of properties, literally on the border of the Seneca property, show. One would think that those nearest the Seneca property would be first to be revitalized. Showing what ten years of Seneca "spin off" has done. These properties are on Niagara and Third St. and are adjacent to the casino.

Across the street is another country. On one side is America the broke and across the street is Seneca the rich. The tax free inequality makes all the difference.

There was a time, prior to the opening of the Seneca Niagara Casino in 2002, when you could make an evening of it, in the 300 block of Niagara Street and that adjacent stretch of Third Street bounded by Niagara and Main.

You might stop off for an after-work cocktail at Mickey Rimmen’s Arterial Lounge, where they stood three deep at the bar, and then stand in line on the sidewalk with many others outside Flo Acotto’s Press Box restaurant for the sumptuous fish fry.

After that, you could wander over to Steve Fournier’s upscale Café Etc. to catch a set by some jazz trio from Manhattan or drop by the Shark Club for a dose of heavy metal.

The night might end at an intimate table upstairs at Dan Vecchies’ extravagant Shadow Martini Bar.

At each stop and on the sidewalks all along the way you’d see people you knew, colleagues, politicians, pretty women and sporting men. People complained then but, looking back on it now, it was a grand time to be in Niagara Falls.

That all came to a screeching halt on New Year’s Eve, 2002, when the Senecas opened their casino doors at what had formerly been the Niagara Falls Convention Center, a place where you once went to see Hillary Clinton give a speech or watch Baby Joe Mesi knock the stuffing out of former contenders like Smokin’ Bert Cooper, or the Cuban Giant, Jorge Luis Gonzalez.

When the morning of Jan. 1, 2003 dawned, it was as if a colossal vacuum cleaner had been turned on, sucking the life out of the surrounding neighborhood. Not having to pay taxes meant that the Senecas could hand out free drinks even to the lowliest nickel slots player.

And six months later, when Albany put New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s draconian anti-smoking legislation into effect statewide, the destruction was complete. The casino, its downtown Niagara Falls location technically being another country, was not forced to comply with the ban.

One by one, the local restaurants and nightspots closed their doors. Ironically, while the bars and restaurants across the street in the Seneca compound paid no taxes, the Press Box – one of the first to go – was shuttered by the state because Flo could no longer afford to pay her sales taxes. The state auction of the restaurant’s contents was a sickening thing to watch.

Things got so bad at the Arterial that Mickey rented the space out to some nice people who thought they could turn the louche dive into a family restaurant. Their experience was not a happy one.

Seeing what was happening, the state and the city began throwing money at the problem by creating an “entertainment district” out of what had been an entertainment district to begin with.

The project eliminated most on-street parking along Third Street by widening the sidewalks; construction took forever and Café Etc. and the Shadow fell in quick succession due to the resulting lack of traffic.

As the accompanying photographs show, the formerly fun neighborhood is now a mix of shuttered storefronts and rapidly decaying buildings.

And it’s a damn shame.




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

JUN 18, 2013