Arena Madness: Niagara Falls Mayor vs. AI Future

By Frank Parlato

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino proposes to build an arena on a property the City doesn’t own. To do so, he must stop Niagara Falls Redevelopment LLC (NFR) from developing a $1.5 billion AI Data Center on its own property with its own money.
Restaino wants to build his $150 million taxpayer-funded arena on NFR’s land. Restaino, who calls his planned arena Centennial Park, is in the middle of an eminent domain action to force NFR to sell the City 10 acres of land for Centennial Park Arena.

Blocking a Major Project

The 10 acres were supposed to be the entranceway of NFR’s AI giant data center and a vital piece of the company’s 100-acre project. While Restaino can likely force the sale, he cannot set the price. A court decides the price through extensive litigation that takes several years.If he succeeds, Restaino takes 10 acres of NFR land and blocks his political nemesis from developing a data center that would catapult Niagara Falls to the forefront of the burgeoning AI world, create 550-600 jobs, and make NFR triumphant as developers after a long time getting started.

“Niagara Digital Campus” digital rendering

Restaino’s Motives

The NFR Data Center would be a $1.5 billion project, self-funded by the developers and in partnership with one of the leading developers of data centers in North America, Urbacon. But Mayor Restaino has ample reason to block NFR. Not only will the company emerge as a powerhouse for bringing new jobs and hosting the biggest tech companies in the world, but construction jobs will number in the thousands to build this mammoth complex.

NFR, not Restaino, will pick its contractors, engineers, planners, and operators. On the other hand, Restaino, if he blocks the AI Data Center, and gets the taxpayer funding for the arena, will pick his friends and cronies.

Jobs and Control

The data center will create 550-600 good-paying jobs, making NFR an important employer in the City. The arena, if built, would produce only a handful of full-time jobs and low-paying part-time jobs on event days. But at least Mayor Restaino gets to pick who gets the arena jobs and can hand them to supporters.

NFR will not give him control over hiring for its cutting-edge data center. The last three mayors have all built monuments to themselves. Mayor Vince Anello built a courthouse that skyrocketed from $20 million to $46.5 million. The State Court System only asked for a $12 million no-frills courthouse.


Monuments to Mayors

At 80,000 square feet, for four judges, its oversized presence on Main St. symbolizes the irony of Niagara Falls. Possessor of the most famous waterfalls in the world with eight million annual tourists and generator of $500 million net profits in hydropower a year (which the City gave away control 65 years ago), Niagara Falls is poverty-stricken, shattered, crime-infested, run-down, and vacant—except for this monolithic courthouse, which almost glows in the dark from the red fires of people burning in misery.

Niagara Falls City Court


Back then, the late Mayor Anello—a good man—said, ‘Build it, and they will come,’ and Lord bless him; Crime has gone up big time in Niagara Falls. Even so, the courthouse is monstrously too big. Mayor Paul Dyster topped him with his train station.


Dyster’s Train Station

There she is, the most beautiful $43 million vacant building in Niagara Falls. The City had an 800-square-foot train station on Willard Avenue near Lockport Road, which was more than sufficient for the 80 travelers that daily use a train. The waiting room always had ample seating.

The previous train station, which accommodated the people who traveled by train in Niagara Falls

But Dyster wanted a train station and his supporters got paid millions in taxpayer money to design, engineer, and site manage a 27,000 square feet train station, which is always empty. The old train station cost taxpayers nothing. The new train station costs millions to operate.

The new and expensive Niagara Falls Train Station

Misguided Projects

Dyster said his Niagara Falls Rail Station and Intermodal Transportation Center, would be integral to the City’s redevelopment. It wasn’t. Eighty people still take the train daily. Only now they wait in a giant, empty, drafty building.

The spacious Niagara Falls train station


Now Mayor Restaino will take prime land from its owners, kill their brilliant project, and build an arena (if he can get taxpayer money). But if he gets the money, what then?

Centennial Park’s Uncertain Future

Centennial Park has no sponsor. He has no anchor tenant. He said he would get college teams, but that did not pan out. Who is going to use the 7,000-seat arena?

Artist rendering of Restaino’s proposed ‘Centennial Park’

Niagara University has not agreed to host basketball or hockey games at the proposed center. The university’s basketball games are held at the historic Gallagher Center, while hockey games are held at the updated Dwyer Arena.

Lack of Interest

The Seneca Nation has shown no interest in hosting events or contributing to the center, given its own facilities. Now, Restaino is talking about amateur and youth sports, like hockey. Amateur sports do not need a 7000-seat arena.

A 2022 study by the Niagara University Global Tourism Institute stated that an event center without an anchor tenant or private sector partner would operate at a loss of, with inflation, more than $500,000 per year.

Mayor Restaino proposes to build an event center — in the wrong place, at the wrong size, and on a property the city doesn’t own. Welcome to Niagara Falls.

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