Niagara Falls, NY — Mayor Robert Restaino’s dream of building a 7000-seat arena – possibly bearing his name – has clashed with plans proposed by Niagara Falls Redevelopment (NFR) for a high tech data center – on the same 10 acres of land.
While the November mayoral election looms, with Dr. Carl Cain emerging as a formidable opponent, Restaino Stadium vs NFR’s Niagara Digital Center – may be a critical election issue.
Both projects are slated to be built on the same 10 acres – land owned by NFR.
Restaino seeks to force NFR to sell the 10 acres to the city through eminent domain. There will be a multi-year legal battle to determine the sales price.
Restaino hopes to build his stadium, estimated at $200 million in taxpayer money, as an entertainment hub, designed to host amateur or minor league sports games, events and concerts.
Restaino currently lacks financial backing, but hopes to find taxpayer money if he is successful in forcing the land sale. NFR is battling Restaino in court to stop the forced sale to build its own project, the $1.5 billion Niagara Digital Campus, on its own land.
NFR has financing for the project and is not dependent on taxpayer support.
Despite Restaino’s assurances that he can find tenants to use it, his arena’s planned size has raised skepticism. Event center experts suggest a 7,000-seat venue might be overly large for Niagara Falls.
Critics argue Restaino does not understand the dynamics of events management. A largely empty venue can have a chilling effect on both performers and audiences. Such an outcome could deter many artists from booking the space, limiting the arena’s usability.
Restaino remains optimistic, pinning hopes of attracting sports teams to use the venue. Yet, he admits he cannot yet name a sports team that will serve as an anchor tenant, raising questions about the stadium’s viability. Restaino assures the public that taxpayers can support any shortfall in costs to operate the stadium if tenants are not forthcoming.
The debate becomes complex when considering NFR’s proposed Niagara Digital Campus, a state-of-the-art technology center, coupled with a Technology Education Center.
NFR was ready to move forward with the development when the mayor announced his plans for Restaino Stadium.
The Digital Campus, now stalled, promised over 500 new permanent jobs, spanning a spectrum from computer technicians to engineers and management roles.
Dr. Cain, meanwhile, is challenging Restaino on financial transparency. Mayor Restaino remains tight-lipped about the exact expenditures spent to date on the legal battle to seize the land with the mayor refusing to disclose taxpayer costs, causing a stir in the council chambers.
Restaino, whose erratic temper caused him to put his hand in front of a TV news camera, because he did not like the question of a reporter, told the council it is nobody’s business what taxpayer dollars he spent to date. The council, understandably afraid of the mayor’s notorious temper, backed down from trying to learn how much Restaino has spent on his stadium plans with his outside legal counsel, Hodgson and Russ.
The mayor informed the citizens that he can divert about $1 million per year from road repairs and other basic city services for the next 20 years to fund the cost of buying the land, estimated at $20 million.
As election day draws near, Niagara Falls stands at a crossroads. On the one hand, there’s Restaino Stadium—a nod to the mayor’s dream and legacy, which if he stands defeated might be all the citizens have to remember him by — and to help offset the memory of how his temper once got him thrown off the bench when he was a city court judge after he arrested dozens of innocent people when a cell phone went off in his courtroom and he could not discover whose phone it was – so he arrested everyone in the courtroom.
On the other hand, NFR’s Digital Campus offers a glimpse into a tech-driven future. The upcoming mayoral race will determine which vision will shape Niagara Falls’ destiny.