Niagara Falls’ experience with Ciminelli reviewed in light of indictment

Niagara Falls Municipal Complex

Niagara Falls Municipal Complex

by James Hufnagel and Frank Parlato

The banner headline at the top of the LPCiminelli website proclaims, “Integrity and Ingenuity at Work”

That integrity has been called into question as shock waves from the federal indictments handed down last week accusing Louis Ciminelli, two of his executive staffers and several close Cuomo aides of felony charges, including bribery and bid-rigging, reverberated across the state, including Niagara Falls, where the L.P. Ciminelli Development Company has maintained a major presence for nearly two decades.

High profile Ciminelli construction projects here include the Niagara Falls Public Safety and Courthouse building and the NCCC Culinary Institute, as well as the Observation Tower in Niagara Falls State Park and the new Maid of the Mist Winter Storage headquarters in the Niagara Gorge.

A Limited Liability Corporation called CLP3 LLC, which was a partnership between Ciminelli and Largo Capital of Amherst, built the courthouse/public safety complex on Main Street. The original contract was for $44,600,000.

During construction, CLP3 put in for millions of dollars in “change orders” – work that was not in the initial contract. In fact, according to information revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request, more than 200 change orders appear to have been approved by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster during the course of construction.

Some of the change orders the Dyster administration granted to Ciminelli/Largo were: $24,914 for a plan to revise a storm pipe; $33,377 for a storage garage. A water valve: $2,282. A blueprint for a garage door: $24,000. Door modification: $1,244. Work to assist Verizon: $10,804. A ditch for underground cable: $13,881. Grading the parking lot: $40,649. Telephone outlets: $4,200. Outlet(s) in the jury box: $1,444. Circuits for phones: $2,684. More outlets: $8,894. “Unforeseen conditions”: $110,581. Normal project changes: $25,228. Finally, environmental cleanup: $2,564,035.

CLP3 LLC made a $500 donation to the Friends of Paul Dyster campaign fund on April 2, 2008, four months after the election, shortly after construction had begun and around the time change orders materialized. Sources say Ciminelli made other more substantial contributions to Dyster, and Ciminelli’s partner in CLP3 LLC made several $1000 contributions.

The lack of oversight, intentional or not, may have also been due to the fact that Dyster had fired former city engineer Bob Curtis on day one of his administration in 2008, just as the work on the courthouse began. Dyster did not hire another engineer — Ali Marzban from Los Angeles — until March 30, 2009, after the courthouse was finished.

It is a matter of record that Curtis had criticized Ciminelli/Largo, contending that Niagara Falls would get hit hard with change orders if these particular builders were not carefully monitored. Curtis actually suggested taking the project away from Ciminelli and doing the courthouse as a public works project. Those comments by Curtis may have been the reason he was fired. Subsequently, Dyster hired LiRo Engineers Inc., of Buffalo to be the city’s project manager in charge of approving change orders, at the rate of $14,600 per month.

Overseeing the construction of the Main Street courthouse facility was Senior Project Engineer David Jaros of LiRo’s Buffalo office. Jaros paid $325 in campaign contributions during 2011. Other LiRo executives made campaign contributions to Dyster.

Final price tag on the Niagara Falls Courthouse and Public Safety building was $47,845,587, $3 million more than the starting contract price. Because of significant downgrades and materials, another several million was saved by Ciminelli during construction. The net result was that the public got a more cheaply built courthouse than contracted for at a more expensive price.

Soon after Dyster and an assemblage of political leaders cut the ribbon on the Ciminelli-built complex in June of 2009, pipes in the ceilings leaked onto judges’ desks, ventilation on the police firing range failed, jail cells got flooded, and more.

LPCiminelli also seems to enjoy a special relationship with Maid of the Mist owner James Glynn, who purchased the Maid business monopoly back in 1971, when it had two stubby tugboats that pack tourists in like sardines for a 15-minute boat around the base of the falls, bringing it to where it is today, two stubby tugboats that pack tourists in like sardines for a 15-minute boat ride around the base of the falls, the difference being, since being booted out of Canada three years ago for alleged corruption, Glynn gives less than half the rides he used to.

Observation Tower in Niagara Falls State Park

Observation Tower in Niagara Falls State Park

Ciminelli renovated the Observation Tower in Niagara Falls State Park, the base of operations for the Maid of the Mist on the American side, at taxpayer ($10 million from State Parks) and ratepayer ($5 million from the New York Power Authority) expense, enhancing the profitability of the Glynn’s Maid corporation. James Glynn advanced $5 million towards the project, which featured a Glynn-run souvenir store and new elevators leading to his boats. In return, he got a rent reduction from New York State worth $100 million, plus 40-year control of Observation Tower where he charged $1 admission and kept 75 cents for the state-owned attraction. All this changed somewhat for the better, after Glynn was drop-kicked out of Canada in 2012 and his rent was ultimately marginally raised to about a third of what his Canadian counterpart Hornblower Cruises pays the Niagara Parks Commission of Ontario.

To this day, not a penny of revenue from the Ciminelli-built Observation Tower expansion accrues to the city of Niagara Falls.

Ciminelli once again came to Glynn’s aid when Glynn needed to move his boats into the Schoellkopf site, pronto, in order to stay in business after the Canada fiasco. It took the intervention of Cuomo and Dyster, the collusion of NYPA, State Parks and even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and extensive backroom machinations by Glynn both here and in Albany, but soon both SEQRA environmental regulations and a National Register of Historic Places designation were set aside so that Ciminelli could build Glynn a new $32 million drydock facility in the Niagara Gorge. A court challenge by preservationists failed to stop the Cuomo/Dyster/Glynn/Ciminelli juggernaut.

Maid President Christopher Glynn felt the necessity to publicly distance his company from Ciminelli after certain allegations began to be made public - however, the close relationship the two firms have enjoyed over the past two decades is undeniable.

Maid President Christopher Glynn felt the necessity to publicly distance his company from Ciminelli after certain allegations began to be made public – however, the close relationship the two firms have enjoyed over the past two decades is undeniable.

Notably, a complete SEQRA review was performed for the Observation Tower work, which was merely refurbishment of an already existing structure. After the public backlash against south Robert Moses Parkway expansion in 2009, State Parks eschewed SEQRA public hearings for projects such as the new State Parks Police barracks and the Ciminelli-built Maid boatyard.

Portending the true rationale behind the Niagara River Greenway, the $450 million NYPA program which was supposed to be about nature and the environment but instead has devolved into a slush-fund for pet political projects like parking lots, sidewalks, restrooms, dog parks, reptile houses, statuary, theater marquees, playgrounds, street lights and the massive Niagara Falls State Park “landscape improvements” plan that bulldozed, paved and fenced off large portions of the former nature preserve, then-Buffalo Assemblyman Sam Hoyt appointed one-time Ciminelli CEO and president John Giardino as a charter Greenway commissioner, setting the stage what was to come.

Hoyt was also instrumental in steering the massive, ten-year $1.3 billion dollar Buffalo Public School reconstruction contract to LPCiminelli, another Ciminelli endeavor mired in controversy. In February, 2016, the Buffalo school district sued Ciminelli for both release of financial records and unspecified damages, alleging that “a scheme to conceal the excessive profits it was pocketing” was afoot.

“We look forward… to an end to all the overcharged rhetoric and political nonsense from a couple of School Board members who have an ax to grind,” said LP Ciminelli Senior Vice President Kevin C. Schuler, who was one of those indicted last week.

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