Using public money to promote alcohol consumption? Using public money to promote the mayor’s private business? It’s all good in Niagara Falls, where the 10th annual Art of Beer festival last week managed to do both things simultaneously.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has gifted the sponsoring organization with around $30,000 a year since its inception. And his Tonawanda home brewing business, Niagara Tradition, is a prominent presence at the event.
Proceeds go to the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, located in the old high school building at Pine Avenue and Portage Road. The 180,000-square-foot building houses some 70 mostly amateur artists as tenants.
The city Council cut funding to the NACC in 2013 but it was restored the next year. Thus far, the NACC has received around $270,000 in public funding in addition to another $500,000 it got to put a new roof on the old high school building.
The local breweries taking part are barred by state law from selling their beer at the event, but they hope to cash in later, the Art of Beer event providing a showcase for their products.
Vendors at the event this year included the Big Ditch Brewing Company, Buffalo Wild Wings, CB Craft Brewers, Chateau Buffalo, Community Beer Works, Certo Brothers Distributing , Consumers Beverages, Flying Bison Brewery, Old First Ward Brewing, Pan American Grill & Brewery, Pearl Street Grill & Brewery. WoodCock Brothers, Resurgence Brewing, Try-It Distributing, Brickyard Pub & BBQ , Chipotle Mexican Grill, Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls, NACC Artisan Café, Red Coach Inn, Hard Rock Café, Great Lakes Brewing News, and Simon Pure Collectors.
Many of the local brewers who take part in the festival got their start with home brewing, and many of the customers at the event are interested in going the same route. That’s where Dyster’s Niagara Traditions comes in.
How many of the vendors at the Art of Beer buy supplies from Dyster is unknown, since Niagara Tradition is a private business and its records are not subject to review.
But the simple fact that public money is being used to promote an event that helps the mayor’s private business has raised eyebrows over the years.
Also participating in this year’s event was the Hard Rock Café, another recipientof Dyster’s largess. The mayor handed the saloon, which is owned by the Seminole Indian tribe, more than $700,000 to stage a series of concerts there.
Claire Seveno, Hard Rock sales and marketing manager, said they created a special Art of Beer commemorative lapel button, which sold for $12, with part ofthe proceeds going to the NACC.
The city Council pulled the plug on the Hard Rock concert series in 2013, and Dyster’s attempts to revive it have been unsuccessful thus far.