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Back in the autumn of 2002, Niagara Falls was a different place. The Seneca Niagara Casino had yet to open. Irene Elia was mayor, and Fran Iusi, Paul Dyster and Candra Thomason gave her majority backing on the City Council.

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That's when Carl Paladino came along with a plan to develop the United Office Building, one of downtown's hardest-luck pieces of real estate. Abandoned for more than 20 years, the Art Deco landmark had previously resisted development plans put forth by any number of private companies, individuals and government agencies.

Paladino told the folks at USA Niagara Development, the state agency tasked with spurring economic growth here, that he would convert the building into upscale condominiums and high-end boutiques.

There was just one problem. He didn't want to pay anything for it.

Obligingly, the state convinced the city to go along with the plan. Niagara Falls taxpayers lost $678,000 in federal housing funding and another $760,000 it had spent buying the building from its previous owner. That's right, we took a $1.438 million hit so that Paladino could get right to work on his new project.

On Oct. 17, 2002, Niagara USA sent out a press release saying that Paladino's company, Ellicott Development, had been chosen for the United Office Building project. And that's when things started to get screwy.

After being handed the property for a payment of one dollar, Paladino headed over to the Buffalo News. The project was in jeopardy, he told them, because the building's historic landmark status prohibited him from installing modern windows.

USA Niagara prepared another press release saying the problem had been resolved and construction would begin shortly. "United Office Building rehab on the horizon," read the headline in the March 21, 2003, edition of the News.

Then, for almost a year, the silence was deafening. It was as though the good folks at USA Niagara had forgotten how to write press releases.

Their memories returned in January of this year, just in time for a much-hyped press conference at which Paladino announced his plan for a $6.5 renovation of the building. The fact that the plan was the same one he had presented some 15 months earlier was largely overlooked by the press.

Things took a bad turn again in May, when Paladino whined that his plan was once again in jeopardy, this time following what he characterized as an unsatisfactory meeting with Mayor Vince Anello. It's time for this do-nothing developer to put up or shut up. If he spent as much time and energy working on the United Office Building as he does playing at public relations, the project would have been completed long ago.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 16 2004