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By Mike Hudson

"I think there's an opportunity here to hit the next level on what we've been doing down there in terms of the quality of acts. I think it might be interesting to see where we can go with our initiative with a company like LiveNation that has such a strong reputation."

Wow. LiveNation, the biggest concert promoter in the world. The Beverly Hills-based company that has exclusive promotional deals with acts like Madonna and U2.

Now what record mogul, Hollywood bigshot or downtown Manhattan hipster is looking to reach that elusive "next level" in concert promotion?

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, that's who.

The mayor of one of the poorest cities in New York state, Dyster has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for free concerts at the downtown Hard Rock and now seems eager to spend hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- more on bigger and better acts.

The main benefit to the people who paid for the Hard Rock concert series was that at least the mayor could catch a ride home with one of the city police officers collecting overtime to provide security at the events. Following an appearance by Sugar Ray at the Hard Rock, lead singer Mark McGrath told a reporter that the Niagara Falls show was the only one on the tour where the band had the opportunity to pound shots with the mayor backstage.

That same night, on the way to Darien Lake after the show, the band's tour bus was pulled over by state police and the driver charged with drunk driving.

One guy who is less than thrilled about the mayor pretending to be a rock concert promoter is John Hutchins, who owns the Rapids Theatre and actually is a rock concert promoter.

"They already give the Hard Rock cafe $200,000 a year to buy concerts in direct competition with me, who has invested millions of his own money in the city," he said. "Now they want to bring in LiveNation to put another nail in my coffin.

"Our city's infrastructure is a travesty and our politicians use the little money they have to promote concerts," Hutchins added. "What is wrong with this picture? I'm one of the very few people who has invested in the development of this city and I continue to get kicked in the teeth for my efforts. Watch for the 'For Sale' signs as soon as I am fed up."

Let's face it: Pretending you're in show business, especially using other people's money, is a lot more fun than the dreary business of filling potholes, tearing down condemned buildings or addressing the out-of-control crime rate in city neighborhoods.

Like a modern-day Emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, Dyster boogies the nights away as the city around him crumbles.

Took the Redhead out for dinner on her birthday last week and only winced a little when she said she wanted to try the new TGI Friday's downtown. I hate all chain restaurants that pretend to be something other than McDonald's or Arby's.

I was served a steak that was about the size of a silver dollar, along with a side of five, exactly five, steak fries. I was also served a Jack Daniels when I'd ordered a Johnny Walker Black. The Redhead had some insipid ribs, and each of us had three drinks over the course of about two hours.

The "ambiance" consisted of a couple guitars hanging from the wall, and the tables and booths were not dissimilar to those you would find at any fast food restaurant worthy of the name. All in all, it was a pretty lousy dining experience.

It got even lousier when the waiter brought the check. A hundred bucks! I thought they were joking. Turned out the cocktails were eight bucks a crack. In Niagara Falls.

Seems that the $150,000 in city and state tax money the restaurant's developer received wasn't quite enough.

Mayor Dyster hailed the restaurant's opening.

"If you see a TGI Friday's located in Niagara Falls, that tells you something," he said.

Actually, it tells you a couple of things. First, that the Dyster administration and USA Niagara Development are interested in closing down the few remaining family-owned restaurants left in the city. And second, it tells you that officials here are so desperate for any sign that they're actually doing something that they'll underwrite a clip joint like TGI Friday's.

We paid up and left, stopping off at McDonald's on the way home to get something to eat.

Do we need more restaurants and live concert events in the city? Absolutely. But if Dyster & Co. want to throw money at people, why not throw it at people like Hutchins, the Fortuna family, or the Colucci and Antonacci families, all of whom already are significantly invested in Niagara Falls?

The Hard Rock is owned by the Seminole Indians of Florida, while TGI Friday's is owned by the Carlson Companies of Minnesota. Profits from these establishments -- which have benefited mightily from tax breaks, low-interest loans and outright grants provided by the state and city governments and taken out of the taxes you pay -- immediately leaves Niagara Falls and New York state altogether.

What's left are a couple dozen minimum-wage level jobs. Chump change for the chumps.

And the chumps are us.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 11, 2011