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Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” no Benefit to Niagara Falls

With key members of his staff under indictment, a potential $3.5 billion budget deficit looming, various ill-considered initiatives like free college tuition and selling liquor in movie theaters going over like lead balloons, and being increasingly at odds with a state legislature scratching and clawing to maintain its own prerogatives in a declining and corrupt state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought his road show to Niagara Falls this week, cutting the ribbon at a hotel opening.

Cuomo was in town to promote was what he calls his “Buffalo Billion Squared” which, being a $500 million reprise of a previous state aid program for Buffalo, might more aptly be called “Buffalo Billion Halved.”

Ribbon cutting at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel on Buffalo Avenue Monday. Concerned that Dyster and Zemsky are wielding sharp objects, Gov. Cuomo (right) instructed them that “We’re going to look up on three, and cut.” While Dyster (left) seems confused as to whether the task has been successfully completed, Empire State Development czar Howard Zemsky (second from left) appears to be measuring something. Also pictured is Faisal Merani of the Merani Hotel Group.

The only thing the Buffalo Billion has paid for here in Niagara Falls, through a $10 million relative pittance, is the rebuilding of the south Robert Moses Parkway, which sprawls along and cuts off access to Niagara River waterfront. It also paid for an isolated, useless new European-style traffic roundabout and new Buffalo Billion-paid for signage encouraging tourists to bypass the city’s business district and drive directly into Niagara Fall State Park. Buffalo Billion also advanced $5 million for the purchase of the old Hotel Niagara downtown.

$20 million of Buffalo Billion funds were supposed to subsidize the “Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge,” a five-year initiative 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, no competition has been held, no winners announced, and no transformational downtown projects begun, and it’s been more than three years.

Another project supposed to be funded by Buffalo Billion was “Wonder Falls”, the $150 million hotel, dining and entertainment complex, including a waterpark and Wallenda daredevil center, to be built on the site presently occupied by the empty, abandoned and decaying Rainbow Centre Mall.

That project appears dead in the water, possibly because developer Uniland was blindsided by competitor Hamister across the street, but more likely because they came to their senses, realizing that, with eight million tourists coming here annually, parking, dining, sightseeing and purchasing gifts and souvenirs in Niagara Falls State Park and then leaving on a dedicated parkway, having little reason to enter or spend money in the city, Wonder Falls would probably suffer the same fate as the Rainbow Centre Mall.

The Moses Parkway upgrade, the Downtown Development Challenge and Wonder Falls, and the Hotel Niagara have been the only four projects singled out for Buffalo Billion aid, prior to Cuomo’s visit this week. One of them (the parkway) benefits Albany and the city of Niagara Falls not at all, while the other three haven’t gotten past the drawing board.

Therefore, it’s obvious that when it comes to Niagara Falls‘ share of the Buffalo Billion, it isn’t Buffalo Billion Squared, or even Buffalo Billion Halved.

It’s Buffalo Billion Infinitesimal.

$15 million is 1.5 percent of $1 billion. That’s one for you, 99 for me.

But Gov. Cuomo sure got some great press out of it over the past couple of years, didn’t he?

Monday, at the Doubletree ribbon cutting ceremony on Buffalo Avenue, Cuomo made more promises, reiterating plans to utilize Buffalo Billion funding to buy up properties like the old Niagara Club building, the so-called Turtle (formerly the Native American Center for the Living Arts), other unspecified land owned by Manhattan developer Howard Milstein around John Daly Blvd., and One Niagara.

Long a thorn in the side of the Dyster administration, One Niagara is arguably one of the city’s most successful downtown business ventures over the past two decades, a thriving venue that employs hundreds and has contributed millions to the city’s tax coffers. Being in direct competition with James Glynn’s Maid of the Mist monopoly in the Niagara Falls State Park, however, it’s no wonder that Cuomo and Dyster have set their sights on the place, given the special influence Glynn exerts over the two politicians.

Cuomo’s proposal to buy up city property brings full circle his bankrupt, failed policies to rejuvenate Niagara Falls, a city that suffers under the triple curse of having the highest violent crime, poverty and per capita taxes in the entire state.

Investing tens of millions of dollars in Niagara Falls State Park and the south parkway did nothing for downtown. Maybe Cuomo wants to add to the state’s portfolio of properties next to one of the most popular, lucrative parks in the world – from the Niagara River, past the park and along the Niagara Gorge, the state already owns 80% of Niagara Falls waterfront. If the goal is to resell to private developers, it’s incomprehensible why Cuomo wants to assume the role of a real estate broker, not to mention unprecedented.

In the meantime, let’s play a guessing game: Two years from now, which local newspaper will be reporting on the breaking of Gov. Cuomo’s latest round of Buffalo Billion promises to the city of Niagara Falls?

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