Restaino Should Get Out of Development Business Given City’s Poor Track Record

By Tony Farina

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino says he wants to build a  speculative $150-million events center on land the city doesn’t own and he has undertaken an eminent domain process to try and corral the 10-acre South End property from NFR at a mounting legal price and hopefully find the money and a tenant later if he’s successful, and of course pay tens-of- millions to NFR for the land.

Right now, he doesn’t have the money to build his pet project and he’s even looking for other property as it seems there are questions on whether the John Daly Blvd. parcel is his first choice, and Restaino has now issued an RFP for a feasibility project for the location and to determine if an arena is even viable after winning round one of the eminent domain legal battle to seize the property that many critics believe would be the wrong location anyway for the mayor’s Centennial Park legacy project, far from the downtown business district that needs something for sure.

It all adds up to another example of why the city should get out of the development business because it just hasn’t worked and there’s pretty much nothing to show for it.

Take the much promoted yet maligned Rainbow Mall project, even with $50 million in ESD funds, nothing has happened since the Wonderfalls cratered. Pine Ave., funded with $2-million in American rescue plan funds, which looks and feels pretty much empty with no development to speak of.

A few bits and pieces but no flag-waving triumph for the city or its taxpayers or Empire State Development which can only shrug in disappointment at the near-empty mall as potential developers disappeared.

The city hired JR Militello to market property thus competing with other developers which sends a bad message to developers that the city can undercut their developments.

Same goes for the much-ballyhooed and expensive train station which boasts minor traffic and an event once a week during the summer months, and Sal Maglie Stadium is a drain on the city budget as well, or the $45-million plus courthouse that Ciminelli/Largo made famous for its cost which is already in disrepair.  And of course the Hyde Park Public Safety Building which now sits empty since the new police station was built at Main and Cleveland with a leak in the roof.

Sal Maglie Stadium

These are just a few examples of why the city should get out of the development business and follow the lead of other cities much more successful at it than Niagara Falls which should simply and smartly clear the development path with the Planning Department and maybe streamline the process for developers that may lead to something actually getting done.

NFR has come to the table at last and is promoting a digital campus with its Toronto technology development partner, Urbacon, on the land the mayor is trying to seize with the mayor having no real financial plan and none in sight.  And despite the mayor’s best promotion efforts, the state is saying nothing and offering no money.

Urbacon’s Toronto headquarters – the company has a 30-year track record of successful development projects

Meanwhile, for those in the city who might be interested in something getting done, NFR’s $1.5-billion digital campus would be privately funded, repeat, PRIVATELY FUNDED, and is projected to create lots of high-paying, new-age tech jobs and pour lots of tax money into the city coffers to ease the burden on taxpayers.

Let’s go through it again.  Niagara Falls has a poor development track record and the no-money events center, wherever it might be, is pure fantasy. NFR’s digital campus would be built by a developer with a very good track record in many cities.  Why wouldn’t it work in Niagara Falls?

Time will tell what comes next. We have urged in previous pieces for the two sides to come together and find the best path forward. Apparently that’s too much to ask. The mayor wants no part of a public discussion as he prefers to go his own way.  Unfortunately, it might be the wrong way for a city dangling by a thread.

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