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Mayor Restaino Wasting Millions of Tax Dollars on Centennial Park Land Grab

By Ken Cosentino

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino claims New York State officials (including Majority Leader of the Assembly Crystal Peoples-Stokes) have promised to fund Centennial Park once the city has “site control.”

If this is true, Mayor Restaino should put his ego aside (along with his arbitrary decision) and relocate the site of his proposed Centennial Park from Parcel 0 on John Daley Blvd., owned by Niagara Falls Redevelopment LLC, to Niagara and Third on land the city owns (and is best suited for maximum economic impact).

Renderings of Centennial Park at Mayor Restaino’s proposed location.

The city already owns the land on Niagara and Third Street. If Restaino was truly interested in an event center and needed to prove “site control” to receive state funding, all he has to do is let Majority Leader Stokes know that he has a site already under control.

In so doing, he’d also save local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars that we wouldn’t have to pay to NFR to force the sale of the land through eminent domain, construction of a parking ramp, and millions in legal fees. He’d also have the opportunity to increase city coffers with real estate taxes, sales tax on vast amounts of utilities and construction materials, and provide economic impact for local businesses, all while creating thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs in the process. If only he would let NFR build its $1.5 billion Niagara Digital Campus on Parcel 0 as it plans for the site.

NFR plans to create a digital campus that will create jobs and generate economic activity

As a lifelong resident of the city of Niagara Falls, I’ve had my fair share of struggles. In our community, getting ahead is often like trying to start a fire with wet wood. It’s frustrating, to say the least. How many times do we hear from outside critics that we aren’t capable of capitalizing on a world treasure? How often are we told that we should pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps? So many questions and so many people wondering why our city is the way it is, and how we can ever change it.

So many broken promises from corrupt politicians and developers. So much overreaching by the government, state and local.

I’m not afraid to speak publicly about political corruption, because I’ve been down this road before. In January, 2017, a friend in the media tipped me off to an RFP (Request For Proposals), which was about to be presented at the State of the City address. I showed up at city hall, bringing along my friend Ken Hamilton as moral support. He, too, was interested in what was happening in our city.

Niagara Falls City Hall

The RFP in question focused on the construction of the now infamous lodge (and speculatively, a casino) on Goat Island. My entire reason for attending this meeting was to publicly oppose this project. I’d learned for years that New York State and other governmental agencies could move subversively by claiming they had public support. Most of the time, the public is unaware of these projects, which are funded by tax dollars, until after the construction was already underway. The usual scheme is to post a notice for a public hearing on an obscure website that nobody even knows exists. When the public doesn’t show up to oppose the project, the government agency claims they had public support.

An RFP was put out for a hotel on Goat Island

At this particular meeting, I wanted to put public opposition on the record. That’s exactly what I did in a room full of hundreds of state and city employees. Half of the room erupted in applause after I’d finished speaking, and several reporters chased me on my way out the door. When I got home, I started an online petition, which compiled over 1,000 signatures over two weeks. I was interviewed by several newspapers and news channels, and received calls from local and state politicians.

By the time I was done, we filled city hall with hundreds of protestors. A resolution was drafted by the City Council, and the state attempted to railroad it using the rubber stamps they had planted on our City Council (one of whom infamously told me I should move because I’m “not a tree”).

Yes, private interests have historically infiltrated our city council to control how council members vote, diverting money in favor of said private interests. The City Council is supposed to represent the voice of the people. How dirty is that?

The people were victorious, and the lodge was stopped. All credit was given to the politicians, and my name was erased from all news coverage. My life was forever changed, I was thrown into politics, and today I’ve seen too much… which is exactly why I’m here again, warning people about the mayor’s proposed Centennial Park project.

You see, to quote Councilman Donta Myles, “Once the shovel hits the ground, it’s already too late.”

He is 100% correct. Once construction begins, good luck undoing anything. Once the money is spent, it’s gone.

People need to wake up. All of our problems come from our poverty. The city is impoverished because we’ve allowed politicians to act on behalf of private interests. We’ve allowed politicians to take our tax dollars and spend them on absolute nonsense that benefits us in no way whatsoever.

Mayor Restaino proposes using CDBG funds to borrow against a federal loan. This is unethical. It will hurt marginalized groups the most, which is why it’s even on the table. If these funds were taken from a demographic with more power and influence in our community, the discussion wouldn’t even reach the table. It’s easy to oppress the oppressed.

Using CDBG funds will bankrupt future generations. The mayor wants to divert money from programs that need funding to purchase land. The mayor does not have any state funding or private investor backing his project. He has also proposed floating a bond. His proposals are reckless, and as a community, we have to come together and put our foot down.

If the mayor truly cared so much about building Centennial Park, he would accept the gift of 11 acres from NFR and build it there. This offer of free land comes with a donation of $2.5 million over the next decade to maintain the parcel. If the mayor truly cared about the city, and if he truly believed in his idea of an event center, he would build it at the corner of Third and Niagara. This property, which the city already owns, is smack dab in the heart of an area that has been the focus of revitalization for over a decade.

Mayor Robert Restaino

The mayor has his eyes on the land dubbed parcel 0, owned by NFR. He wants to seize it via eminent domain, which would effectively take it off the tax rolls. He wants to spend millions on creating a new parking ramp when the city already owns the underutilized parking garage at the old Rainbow Mall. Nothing this mayor proposes makes any sense!

I hope for the sake of our children and future generations that people will come together and stop this madness. We cannot sit idly by and allow this rogue mayor to launch a crusade and pile more debt onto our backs. We have one chance at this, and the choice seems so clear. We must fight back and force the mayor and city council to hear our voices before it’s too late. Otherwise, we’re screwing over our kids and our community.

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