Cuomo losing interest in City of Niagara Falls? Projects stalled,Progress at a Standstill

Over the past two years Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised tens of millions of dollars of economic aid for the city of Niagara Falls. So far, the city has received none of it. Not only that, but after having been a regular visitor here, it now appears the governor is distancing himself from involvement with the city and its political establishment.
On August 8, 2014 at a press conference in the Niagara Falls State Park, Gov. Cuomo announced that Uniland Development Co. had been selected to construct “Wonder Falls” at the site of the long-defunct Rainbow Centre Mall.

Whatever happened to Wonderfalls?

According to an article in the Buffalo News, “The project is… expected to transform downtown Niagara Falls and be a catalyst for visitors to lengthen their stay by offering 300 hotel rooms, themed restaurants, a spa, an indoor water park and a “daredevil adventure center” that will bear the name of famed wire walker Nik Wallenda.”
The $150 million Wonder Falls resort was to have been heavily subsidized by a portion of the “Buffalo Billion”, the centerpiece of Cuomo’s economic development strategy for Western New York. The design phase of Wonder Falls was estimated to be 18 months.
Coumo’s Wonder Falls announcement was on August 8, 2014. That was 18 months and one week ago. And all a Google News search on “Wonder Falls” and “Uniland” turns up is mostly Reporter articles from a year ago revealing that Uniland and Delaware North, the multinational food concessionaire, were embroiled in conflict over unrelated issues, making it appear somewhat less likely they would follow through with the Niagara Falls project.
It’s particularly telling that no progress report on Wonder Falls was forthcoming during Mayor Paul Dyster’s hard-fought re-election campaign late last year. In the run-up to last year’s primary and general elections, local media treated the mayor as their fair-haired boy, the headlines, news stories and commentary generally quite favorable to his political interests. However, other than prognostications from Dyster, nothing of substance was announced about Wonder Falls. Although he did end up winning, a well-timed, widely-publicized Wonder Falls update could have proven beneficial to Dyster’s prospects in the two closely-contested elections. But there was no update, press release or sidewalk press conference on Rainbow Blvd.
Was it because Uniland has bailed? We might not know the answer to that question for a time, just as we didn’t know Dupont Chemours was closing its Buffalo Avenue plant with the loss of 200 jobs, and the city was wasting $50,000 on a ridiculous work of “public art”, until the 2015 election results were in and Dyster safely returned to office for a third term.
In addition to the tens of millions pledged to build the apparently moribund Wonder Falls, Cuomo promised anotherwindfall for the city of Niagara Falls amid great fanfare.
“Governor Cuomo Launches Development Competition to Revitalize Downtown Niagara Falls” announced the October 3, 2013 Albany press release.
The five-year, $40 million initiative was “to transform the downtown Niagara Falls area into a premier destination that will attract tourists and fuel private investment”, providing “a real opportunity for champions in the development and investment industries to face off right here in the Falls” resulting in “creative and innovative projects that will spur private development.”
So far, it seems the “Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge” is just more hot air from Cuomo. No competition has been held, no winners announced, and no transformative downtown projects begun, and it’s been more than two years. And, given the city’s fiscal difficulties, it may renege on its $20 million end of the deal.
The governor’s endorsement of Mayor Paul Dyster for a third term was decidedly low-key, meriting just a few brief lines in the local dailies. No mention on the Governor’s website. No quick jaunt to the Cataract City to shore up the flagging popularity of his political ally Dyster, who’s dutifully supported the governor’s agenda at every turn. A far cry from when a phone call from the mayor could precipitate the governor’s unprecedented endorsement of two city council candidates.
So why the backpeddling on economic development, the lack of visits from the governor (even though he’s been to Buffalo recently) and the lukewarm Dyster endorsement? Could it be Governor Cuomo is distancing himself from a world-famous city that’s teetering on the brink of insolvency? Would it look good on a future presidential candidate to be intimately involved with the financial demise of a city that draws eight million tourists a year? Or has he come to the conclusion that the political leadership the people of this city have chosen is so hopelessly incompetent that it’s no longer worth his time or effort here?
Possibly, it’s all of the above.
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