By Tony Farina
The Buffalo News editorial today on Niagara Falls got it half right and we certainly applaud the strong endorsement of the major expansion of the Niagara Falls Aquarium, already a bit of a small wonder next to the world wonder that the whole world knows.
The editorial writers got that part right but I disagree with their support of the city’s efforts to acquire through eminent domain court proceedings about 12 acres of South End property from Niagara Falls Redevelopment for the administration’s Centennial Park project.
There are several problems with the city’s planned $150-million park project on NFR land beginning with the fact that as of this writing, the city has no money to fund the project or acquire the land even if it wins the likely long court fight to seize it.
Yes, the editorial correctly noted the city won the first round of the court fight but NFR is going to appeal and there’s a long legal road ahead if the city is to be ultimately successful and it will continue to incur massive expense in that effort.
But besides the money issue, if the city did have the resources to build its park, is it targeting the wrong location on land that NFR says is perfect for a data center project in partnership with a Toronto-based developer with a long and successful track record that would bring high-paying jobs and new tax money?
Many believe the city’s targeting of the NFR property next to the Seneca Casino is the wrong place to build the park and it would be better located closer to the business district downtown and closer to the mighty wonder. The major beneficiary to the park project as now planned might be the casino and most certainly would be welcomed by the Senecas if it happens. Maybe the city would win a new friend at the South End site if it eventually wins the court fight and finds the money to make it happen. Neither scenario is a certainty.
Meanwhile, finger-pointing about who said what and when continues between NFR and the city and while both sides remain committed to their effort, many believe a negotiated settlement that would be better for the city is the way to go.
Other potential developers are surely watching as the stalemate continues and the only thing getting done in Niagara Falls is the state-backed aquarium expansion. The state has pledged no money so far to help with the Centennial Park project. And no one else has, either. It is an unfunded project.
Yes, the editorial notes NFR’s poor record on development for 25 years gives pause, but NFR could be put to the test on the data center project by bringing in their partner, Urbacon, and have down-to-earth meaningful discussions with the city about breaking the stalemate and getting something done. We would hope that would happen and the sooner the better, hopefully before the election.