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By Mike Hudson

A sheaf of new documents obtained from the city Code Enforcement Department under a Freedom of Information Law request last week appears to contradict an earlier document obtained by a different FOIL concerning the insurance status of Regional Environmental Demolition (RED), the company doing nearly all of the city's emergency building demolitions since August of last year.

The first FOIL request was filed by Laborers Local 91 and asked for whatever insurance information the city had on RED. The request yielded a two-page liability insurance policy and a one-page document from the New York State Insurance Fund stating that the company had Workman's Compensation insurance, but that it didn't apply to building demolitions, the only sort of work being done by RED for the city. The city requires that all contractors be covered for Workman's Compensation.

Last week, after the document appeared on the front page of this paper, Code Enforcement Department Director Dennis Virtuoso called to say he had many more documents relating to RED's insurance status. Why he didn't release them when the Laborers asked for them is a mystery,, but he said he'd give them to us if we filed another FOIL request.

The documents, which appear to be genuine, were all generated on May 10, the day the Reporter article appeared, and cover a period beginning last July and ending this July. Each one references a specific demolition project and covers "all operations," specifically including building demolition.

Many questions remain unanswered. Why did the city drop its requirement that demolition contractors be bonded last year, right around the time that RED -- which doesn't have a bond -- started getting the demolition contracts?

The cozy relationship between RED and the Dyster administration begs a closer look, and not the "he said, she said" type of thing that appeared recently in the Niagara Gazette.

Speaking of the Gazette, it's interesting that while the Buffalo News and Channel 2 News have both done major stories on the Dyster administration's curious "mistake" in giving significant tax breaks to Wine on Third, a smallish Third Street saloon, the Gazette hasn't.

Last week, bar owners Shawn Weber and Dave Giusiana said they'd been told they were never qualified to receive the tax breaks given them by city Assessor Dominick Penale, who will retire at the end of this month.

Wine on Third opened in 2007 after Weber and Giusiana received nearly $300,000 from the city and state. The tax assessment break was designed for businesses that were transformed from non-residential zoning to mixed-use development, even though the building had always been mixed-use, providing apartments upstairs and various businesses at street level.

While Dyster called the tax break "an honest mistake," it meant that the bar -- a popular watering hole for city officials -- received tens of thousands of dollars in undeserved tax breaks over the past four years, on top of the lavish startup grants and loans.

And the discrepancy would have gone uncovered had not another developer shown up at City Hall asking for the same tax arrangement bestowed on Wine on Third.

Dyster's idea of economic development seems to be pouring $300,000 in taxpayer funding into a 47-seat bar. Coincidentally, his $110,000-a-year city administrator, Donna Owens, lives at the Jefferson Apartments, a building also owned by Weber.

Show's over, people. Move along. No conflict of interest here. Nothing to see.

Well, the city is bracing excitedly for the opening of a new chain restaurant to go along with the Applebee's, Chili's and soon-to-come Olive Garden on Military Road and the Hard Rock Cafe downtown.

A new link in the TGI Friday's chain is set to open at the Sheridan Hotel on Third Street.

"I think they felt that a national chain was more of a sure thing," Dyster said, adding that the Falls has many independent, family-run restaurants. "I think it's going to fit with downtown Niagara Falls very well."

Dyster liked the idea of a new chain restaurant in downtown Niagara Falls so much that he generously kicked in half of the $150,000 the company received in taxpayer funding.

Friday's is actually a multinational corporation with more than 1,000 restaurants in 51 countries. It is owned by a consortium consisting of ABN AMRO, the Dutch state bank, and Carlson Restaurants Worldwide Inc., which also owns the Radisson Hotel chain.

Why they needed $150,000 is anybody's guess, but it is certain that any profit generated by the Niagara Falls operation will be on its way to Amsterdam by the end of the business day.

You don't have to be a lifetime Falls resident to remember Dell's, The Press Box, Pete's Market House, Dante's, La Bruschetta, George's, Shadow, Cafe Etc., Bada Bean, Macri's, or any of the many other locally owned and operated businesses driven out of the city or out of business altogether by the deadly combination of oppressively high taxes and a long series of stumblebum administrations interested, for the most part, in lining their own pockets or those of their friends and campaign contributors.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 17, 2011