Mayor Restaino Now Wants Feasibility Study to See if He Still Wants to Take NFR Land

This is not how eminent domain is supposed to work.

It is also not how development is supposed to work, even when, like Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino, you’re spending taxpayers’ money.

Mayor Restaino told his Buffalo lawyers to tell the NY State Supreme Court that 10 acres of private property on John B. Daly Blvd. owned by Niagara Falls Development LLC., is the only suitable land on which he could build his unfunded event center, “Centennial Park.”

Artist rendering of “Centennial Park” project

That appears to be untrue.

Restaino has not yet determined whether the property is even right for the Centennial Park project after all. But that did not stop him from halting NFR’s plans to build a $1.5 billion Data Center – which would employ 550 people in good-paying jobs and position the City to be in on the cutting edge of the high tech industry.

It was already outrageous that Restaino singled out 10 acres of land in the heart of NFR’s planned 60-acre mega development to build a middling arena and a parking ramp, which nobody is even certain will be used if he can get the taxpayer money to build it.

Mayor Robert Restaino

It is now nearly two years since Mayor Restaino stopped the NFR project ————————— by suing the owners through the legal process of eminent domain to begin his ill-advised pursuit of NFR’s land on John B. Daly Blvd. for his speculative, unfunded event center scheme, “Centennial Park.”

But after blocking the project that would not cost taxpayers a dime, which would bring needed jobs and tax revenue and spending an untold amount on Buffalo lawyers to sue NFR, Restaino now says he wants to spend more taxpayer money to do something he should have done from the start. – do a feasibility study to determine the best location for Centennial Park.

In fact, Restaino’s makes it clear that NFR’s property – referred to as Parcel 0 by the company is “just one of numerous potential locations for a potential Centennial Park.”

A proper study will very likely determine that there are better locations: closer to small businesses and other commercial establishments, and on government-owned land that saves city taxpayers acquisition costs entirely.

Restaino launched his attempt to take NFR’s land in mid-2022, even after working with NFR and Toronto developer Urbacon on the same parcel of land—before suddenly deciding to take the land for his speculative arena.

Restaino now proposes to spend $140,000 on a feasibility study to figure out if NFR’s land is right.

At the end of the day, the Mayor admits he has no plan for funding the hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to actually build an arena, parking ramp and a tiny park.

His attitude, which comes easy if one is not spending his own money, is “if we propose it, they will come” approach, saying that once the city gets the land, the state and federal funding will appear.

The Mayor hasn’t pointed to a single example where another project of this size and type in New York State has been funded in a similar manner.

Even the funding for the feasibility study appears to be money the City of Niagara Falls doesn’t have.

The Mayor’s recent communication to the City Council states that the funds will come from (1) a grant from National Grid; (2) state money from Empire State Development (ESD) (through Niagara USA), and—significantly—“funding available from American Rescue Plan using Treasury Guidance Expenditure Category 6.1, which is “Revenue Replacement for the Provision of Government Services.”

As only $70,000 came from ESD, we can assume a large sum will be taken from the American Rescue Plan—money that was earmarked to help the city recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This money cannot be used legally to fund a feasibility study on an arena.

This money was not intended to be used for a feasibility study for an arena.

This was never the purpose of these funds, and every dollar spent on a feasibility study is money that could be used for roads, water and sewer infrastructure, public health services, small businesses and non-profits, broadband infrastructure, and all of the other uses specifically named in the Treasury Department guidelines.

The Treasury Department guidelines do not reference to a study to determine the feasibility of speculative arena as an acceptable use of funds.

In her last three budgets, Governor Kathy Hochul has earmarked zero dollars for Centennial Park, despite the fact that the City of Niagara Falls has been paying one of the most prominent lobbying firms in New York State for several years to lobby on Mayor Restaino’s behalf.

Even if the Mayor’s supposed $150 million project is built, reports indicate it will never operate at a profit. According to a September 2022 report by the Niagara University’s Global Tourism Institute, a 2017 arena development analysis commissioned by the Niagara County Legislature and generated by the Minneapolis-based consulting firm Convention, Sports & Leisure considered two potential options for running a “multi-use hybrid venue” in the Falls that could accommodate crowds of between 4,000 and 6,000 people.

  • The “tenant model,” which would involve at least one anchor tenant such as Niagara University’s hockey or basketball programs, had the potential to attract 108 events and 184,500 attendees per year. That option came with an annual financial loss estimate of $261,000.
  • The “non-tenant model,” which considered an arena that did not have an anchor tenant such as NU, had the potential to attract 98 events and 148,250 attendees per year. That option had the potential to run at an annual loss at $482,000 per year.

 Who pays for the losses? City taxpayers do!

Can City of Niagara Falls taxpayers really afford this? Consider the following, from the same report:

“…the city government spends an average of $90 million per year, but it has just $75 million in annual revenue. It has ‘made ends meet’ over the past two decades by using ‘casino money.’”

All of this points away from the project. But the Reporter knew this two years ago, before this incompetent Mayor spent an unknown amount of money – diverted from the city – to stop what could be a world class Data Center that could be a game changer.

And now he is not sure he even wants the land.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
.wpzoom (color:black;}