The Chairman Speaks out. Hamister Project Lacking Transparency, Details
By Glenn Choolokian
The Dyster/USA Niagara/Hamister proposal has become one of the biggest development controversies in Niagara Falls history.
That’s unfortunate because it didn’t have to be this way.
While the City Council agreed in good faith to allow the mayor to continue talking to USA Niagara and Hamister, the council didn’t agree to be a rubber stamp for a development arrangement that’s not in the best interests of the taxpayers.
As chairman of the City Council, I make no apologies for asking questions regarding the structure and transparency of the deal. If we look back on the last 40 years of Niagara Falls, development hasn’t that been the problem. The right questions were never asked.
In short it looks like the council’s job was to simply sign off on the process, from selection to negotiation to construction. We weren’t supposed to “get in the way.” And when we have asked questions, we’ve been called obstructionist and been hounded by the mayor’s media machine.
Time and again, I’ve taken phone calls from newspaper reporters who want to sell me on the merits of the Hamister arrangement. These reporters don’t simply ask questions; they argue on behalf of Dyster and Buffalo interests. And they are doing it in clear violation of the ethics of journalism.
Last week, this Hamister issue was taken to a disturbing level as third parties delivered the message to me from “Buffalo people” who pledged “to end political careers in Niagara Falls if the deal doesn’t go their way.” Those are threats made to an elected official and they will be treated accordingly.
While Mayor Dyster has reporters working for him and has Facebook buddies posting childish insults about the City Council, I have the heartfelt comments of the city’s taxpayers to guide me.
At the grocery store, at youth baseball and at church, I am approached by residents who believe the time has finally come to ask the tough questions and to do the right thing for the taxpayers. This is a struggling city and I value the sincere remarks of my fellow residents over the cold business calculations of those who see Niagara Falls as place to turn a profit and residents be-damned.
On July 8, USA Niagara brought out its heavy guns, but they didn’t bring out the details and history of how they selected Hamsiter. On that day Kenneth Adams, the CEO of the state economic development agency said, “What’s the message Niagara Falls wants to send to the investment community?”
I never met Mr. Adams, but I think he should consider what message the state wants to send to the Niagara Falls community. Our residents put this City Council in office and they expect responsible, honest representation for their vote. Mr. Adams’ condescending attitude could be summarized as, “Albany knows what’s best for Niagara Falls.” Sorry, Mr. Adams, but we know what Albany has done for Niagara Falls: The Parkway, the Parkway modification, the NY Power Authority, development of Niagara Reservation State Park, 52 acres of our downtown gone,10-year casino compact extension and the creation of USA Niagara.
USA Niagara was dropped on us10 years ago because Niagara Falls, in the eyes of Albany, couldn’t get development done. It’s no secret that Niagara Falls has made mistakes in the past 40 years (has New York State made any mistakes?), but the record of USA Niagara can hardly be considered a success.
There’s been more than $4 million spent on the Third Street redevelopment. Much of the renovations are in disrepair: metal grates missing around trees, signs off their bases with large bolts exposed, pavers sinking in the street, boarded up windows. Close to $10 million was spent on Old Falls Street and still it has no tourism commercial presence, but it does have those same sinking pavers. The verdict is out on the Culinary Arts project and studies and more studies are being done regarding the future of the rest of the Rainbow Centre. And those studies are not to be confused with the “parking study” that’s underway. The only significant downtown activity for the past five years has been costly free summer concerts funded by the taxpayers.
USA Niagara gave the city the 2011 Holiday Market at a cost of a $500,000. It was supposed to be a national success story, but it failed miserably. That project like this Hamister project was forced on the residents as a sure winner with flattering stories in the local papers. Anyone who criticized the Holiday Market was automatically labeled an obstructionist.
The council majority has questioned the Hamister project on the grounds of transparency and the value of the land being transferred. The council tabled the proposal on July 8, 2013, and in light of no new information coming in and no counter offer being made there is no reason to remove it from the table.
Glenn A. Choolokian is the chairman of the Niagara Fall City Council and lives in Niagara Falls with his wife and two children.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
Jul 23, 2013