Experts Warn Against Using Public Funds for Event Center

This past Friday, the Niagara Gazette’s investigative journalist Mark Scheer published an editorial entitled “Economists on sports venue public financing: ‘read the fine print’.” Scheer astutely compared expert analyses on the public funding of the new Buffalo Bills stadium with Mayor Robert Restaino’s proposed use of public funding for his event center. The verdict: Not so good for the taxpayers.

Niagara Gazette’s Mark Scheer has been critical of Mayor Restaino’s lack of transparency

According to Scheer, economic experts participated in a webinar presented by EconoFact this past Thursday. Those experts cautioned heavily about the use of public funding for stadiums and sports venues. And while Restaino has pushed for a $140,000 feasibility study, the experts “warned against blindly accepting the findings of economic impact studies for any such project. They instead suggested taxpayers consider what Matheson described as roughly 30 years of research and 150 peer-reviewed articles that demonstrate, almost uniformly, that sports, even professional sports, have little to no economic impact on the wider area surrounding a stadium or arena.”

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul has said that she supports Restaino’s vision pending the results of a feasibility study. Hochul also supports corporate welfare for her billionaire benefactors. She has also experienced a meteoric drop in her public ratings due to her panhandling of the new Bills stadium. Hochul has dedicated $850 million in taxpayer dollars to the new stadium.

Concerning the potential for private partnerships, Scheer writes; “City officials have said they are working with at least two private partners, including Niagara University and Seneca Niagara Casino, who may play a role in filling the venue with sporting events or concerts.”

There have been no formal commitments or public statements in recent times from either Niagara University nor the Seneca Niagara Casino to provide financial support of the event center. Mayor Restaino leans on this speculation whenever he is interviewed about the costs of the event center; despite his inability to produce any official agreement. Niagara Falls taxpayers should wonder whether Niagara University has the ability to commit to a $30,000 plus daily rental payment to cover just the interest rate on the city’s proposed federal loan.

Corporate welfare and trickle down voodoo economics are embedded within Governor Hochul’s administration; while Mayor Restaino has his hand out asking New York State to help solely cover the costs of the event center. Hochul, whose focus in Niagara Falls has been limited to Delaware North’s cash cow in Niagara Falls State Park, won’t climb into bed with Restaino just yet. New York State has committed $75,000 towards their own independent feasibility study regarding the event center.

Between the state and the city, that’s a total of $215,000 in mostly taxpayer dollars for feasibility studies just to see if the event center is even worth the investment. Yet that hasn’t stopped Mayor Restaino from pushing forward with his eminent domain lawsuit, which is expected to cost taxpayers millions of dollars. If we base that estimate on the city’s previous eminent domain settlement (Niagara Splash Park), the number may ultimately be as high as $25 million.

pastedGraphic.pngIt’s no wonder that Restaino’s administration denied Mark Scheer’s original request for HUD documents relating to a potential loan towards his pipe dream.

The economic experts with the EconoFact’s webinar are not the first professionals to warn Niagara Falls taxpayers about Restaino’s lofty plans for funding the event center. Prior to becoming the Vice President of Entertainment at the prestigious Foxwoods Resort Casino, Christian Printup was the Senior Executive Director of Entertainment & Special Events for the Seneca Niagara Casino.

Here is a list of Printup’s concerns regarding Restaino’s proposed event center (originally published in an opinion editorial last year):

Concern #1: “First, financial resources in the City of Niagara Falls are limited so, I don’t think the city is making a very smart business move in trying to take NFR’s land and what promises to be a long eminent domain fight winding through the courts. Time is money, and even if the city wins, it will be paying top dollar for a venue that may not pay for itself.”

Concern #2: “The arena size being discussed is probably too large, and — in my experience— the location will face challenges booking enough dates to break even, never mind pay the debt service on the funds borrowed to acquire the land and build.”

Concern #3: “Who are the anchor tenants going to be? Minor league hockey? A local university? Neither will provide enough dates to underwrite the facility nor can they afford the rent unless it is subsidized by the city.”

Concern #4: “I think the various arenas and event centers In Buffalo, and Niagara Falls, Ont., would get most of the shows that the currently proposed arena would need to succeed.”

As far as entertainment goes, Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut is considered world class. Christian Printup is clearly an expert in his field with an in-depth knowledge of our community. He generously provided his own feasibility survey to us for free! Let’s heed his warning, and the warnings of the economic experts, before Mayor Restaino raises our taxes to pay for his event center fees.

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