By Tony Farina
Time is rapidly slipping away on a golden opportunity to possibly cash in on two competing development projects in Niagara Falls that could be transformative in so many ways.
Let’s give credit to NFR’s Roger Trevino for his comments in the Niagara Gazette last week titled “In defense of NFR Land Deal,” in which Trevino exhorts city leaders to end the money-wasting, war-of-words stalemate that currently exists between the mayor’s and NFR’s competing development projects and find answers.
Bold leadership is needed to make both these projects a success and not at the expense of one of them. And it is my sense, in talking to some of the players, that many people would like to see both projects happen for the good of all concerned, most importantly the taxpayers of Niagara Falls and the future of the city.
NFR is vigorously opposed to the eminent domain solution that would seize its property on John Daly Blvd. for the mayor’s unfunded events center at the expense of NFR’s pledge to build a $1.5 billion digital campus on the site that would bring jobs and tax money to Niagara Falls, badly in need of both.
While the city won the first round of the eminent domain legal battle, in what can only be described as incredible, it is now employing a feasibility study (funded by National Grid?) to find the best possible site for the mayor’s project even though is it leading the legal fight to win the NFR property through eminent domain. Go figure that one. Winning the fight to seize the land yet possibly looking for a better site for the unfunded center?
Trevino asks in his message should the city “turn its back on an NFR land donation of more than 10 acres, along with $3.5 million over the course of a decade for upkeep, maintenance and economic development projects? Particularly when it has other alternatives for an event center, on land already owned by the city and closer to restaurants, bars and other local businesses?”
The council seems squarely caught in the middle, with a taxpayer-funded lawyer advising them not to settle with NFR because the eminent domain legal case is strong even while the city employs a feasibility study to possibly find another site for the events center beyond land it might seize, and ultimately pay a fortune to acquire, to build a project it has no money to build?
It all seems so confusing as to boggle the mind but in the end, it is not so confusing that fair-minded observers cannot come to the conclusion that this is a situation begging for leadership to possibly cash in on both projects for a lot less taxpayer money than is being spent now. And NFR says it doesn’t need public money for its digital campus which makes the stalemate even more frustrating.
So where is the leadership that can bring this matter to a successful conclusion? If there are questions about NFR’s land gift and their commitment to build a digital center, bring them in with city leaders, along with their Toronto-based partner, and work it out. If they won’t come in, issue solved. But if they do and can make their case, what in the world are city leaders waiting for? Just do it.
It is hard to write about all this because it seems Niagara Falls has been through this before, a long-struggling tourist mecca with a world wonder in its midst that can’t seem to get out of its own way to make things better. A head scratcher to be sure, but not the first for this tired, broken down city that desperately needs a boost.
I urge Niagara Falls to act wisely for once and find a way to get both projects done, if possible, and make the city better for all. There must be a room big enough to fit in all the players and hash it out once and for all, and yes, lawyers can be there, too.
There just must be a way. We urge the players to wake up before it is too late and both projects are lost in the mist of the mighty Falls wonder.