Ask any lifelong resident of the city of Niagara Falls, NY “why do we have so much blight?” and you will hear many different stories that all share common themes. One of the major themes is the “do-nothing” developer archetype, who has historically “taken the money and ran.”
Earlier this month, the Niagara Gazette published an investigation into WNY businessman Rod Davis, whose company Power City Ventures, LLC was selected to receive funds from the Restore New York grant program. Under this program, Power City Ventures, LLC would have been reimbursed $1 million for costs while rehabilitating 10 to 12 city properties, sold to the development company for $50,000 by the city of Niagara Falls. That deal will no longer be moving forward, thanks to the Gazette’s investigational reporting and many whistle-blower testimonies.
According to the Gazette, Power City Ventures, LLC was recommended to receive the grants by “Mayor Robert Restaino’s administration, which submitted the necessary paperwork to position the housing project to be eligible for Restore New York funds.” One might question the vetting process by which the Restaino administration determined that Power City Ventures, LLC and manager Rod Davis were the best candidates to receive the $1 million grant.
This writer asked Councilman Donta Myles about the RFP (Request For Proposals) process for the Restore New York program, and whether other local contractors were able to submit. Says Mr. Myles, “I believe it (the RFP) was hidden in the back of our failed newspaper.” If true, this would mean that local contractors would have had to find the RFP in the newspaper in order to know that the program was accepting submissions. Davis apparently didn’t have to play this game of hide-and-seek with the RFP, because his company was personally recommended for the grant program by Mayor Restaino’s office.
Had Mayor Restaino’s office properly vetted Rod Davis and his company Power City Ventures, LLC, the office may have found what the Niagara Gazette uncovered in their investigation.
Ryan Miller, owner of T-Mark Heating, Plumbing and Cooling told the Gazette that Davis still owed his company $6,372 for their labor. Miller said Davis basically told him three times that the “check is in the mail,” yet it never arrived.
Two of Davis’s firms were sued by NP Twin Sisters for failing to turn over $39,000 in collected rent funds.
Local contractor Demetrius Nix, owner of Nix Construction and Property Management, told the Gazette that Davis still owes him $13,000. Mr. Nix, who is currently running for mayor, was arrested in connection to his dispute with Davis, who claimed that Nix was trespassing on the very properties he was hired to fix.
Nix told the Reporter, “How does a city that’s passing over $1 million and ten houses not know that there’s a long trail of evil and a long line of debt? Debt that the Gazette found in two seconds!”
Nix continued, “Our city overlooks the corruption and backdoor deals that are going on. If I was mayor, these same houses would be divided up to locals, to help build first time ownership.”
When asked about the RFP process, his opinion was “No one else could have gotten it. Rod is the one who ‘found’ it. Had he not come, we would never have even known about it. The city doesn’t look for grants like that to help our people.”
Despite the long list of allegations, lawsuits and controversies against Rod Davis and his companies, Mayor Robert Restaino doubled down on his support of Davis. A few days after the Gazette published its investigation on Davis, they interviewed Mayor Restaino who stated that “many developers find themselves in the midst of those disputes,” adding, “From my perspective, those two items standing alone do not necessarily say that that particular developer will be disqualified.”
Mayor Robert Restaino
In that same interview, Mayor Restaino threw the city council under the bus, stressing that it was the council that voted unanimously to sell 10 properties to Davis for $50,000.
When asked about the vote, Councilman Donta Myles replied, “In the case of Mr. Davis, there were more than 40 agenda items that evening, along with two presentations. We didn’t draw up the resolution to place 10 city owned properties in Mr. Davis’s possession for $50,000 total. Therefore, it wasn’t our job to investigate Mr. Davis’s legal history. So for our mayor to continually state that we voted yes for the agenda item; may I remind him that he, his administration and corporation council dropped the ball on vetting this guy before shuffling that particular resolution into a 40 agenda item evening. This is gas lighting at its finest.”
Myles, clearly frustrated by the Mayor’s interview, continued, “As a city councilman, it is my job to review the supporting documentation of each agenda item… and vote on those said items. I have an expectation of the mayor, his administration and corporation council to do their due diligence to properly vet any ‘developer’ who wants to do business in the city of Niagara Falls.”
Councilman Myles was not the only local to voice his disdain. The Reporter was contacted by two additional locals who were allegedly scammed by Rod Davis. Private contractor Jason Szymczak and his helper Mercedes Olivera were both disgusted that Davis’s company was selected for the state grant. Said Szymczak, “He does not deserve the grants, he’s sketchy. Davis wrote me a $10,000 check and it was non-cashable. After it bounced, I pressed charges against him and had to go to his house for payment. He was having a new roof put on his house. He left myself unpaid and unable to pay my help several times. When he paid me cash, he shorted me several thousand dollars.”
Olivera added, “Davis didn’t have enough to pay myself and one other helper for our last week of labor.”
Jane Harrington, a West Seneca attorney representing Davis’s former partner Dr. Yasar Shad, told the Niagara Gazette that she found it “kind of alarming” that New York State or the City of Niagara Falls would award Davis any money, stating “Nobody should give him (Davis) any money because I haven’t seen him do a stitch of work.”
Worth noting is that local redevelopment firm TM Montante and local engineering firm Wendel are listed as references on Davis’s application for the project. However, it is unknown what these firms’ professional relationship with Rod Davis, if any, exists at all.
Amidst the massive number of complaints and legal trouble surrounding Rod Davis and his companies, it does not take an expert analyst to conclude that supporting Davis further would pose a liability to Mayor Restaino’s re-election campaign.
City Councilman Donta Myles shared with the Reporter that Power City Ventures, LLC has decided to remove itself from the Restore New York grant project, foregoing the previously council approved property transfers; as the properties remain attached to the project moving forward.
Mayor Restaino’s administration is currently in discussions with Empire State Development to find a “replacement” developer who can complete the project, and then present the city council with the “necessary resolutions for the recognition of the new developer to the new entity.”
Why Mayor Restaino and his administration didn’t take these precautions in the first place is anyone’s guess.
Councilman Myles states he has “inquired about the vetting process for choosing the new developer,” asking, “Will there be one?
Because know this – I don’t care who you are connected to in local government. If you don’t do good, clean business – do NOT come this way. I can guarantee you will not like my response.”