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AUGUST 12 - AUGUST 20, 2014

Cuomo, City Double-Down on Failed Strategy Will Development Suffer Same Fate as Defunct Mall?

By James Hufnagel

August 12, 2014

How things work, or campaign contributing for dummies: Uniland's president Carl Montante was the 19th largest campaign donor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Erie County. His company will receive exponential dividends on this investment (in Niagara County) courtesy Gov. Cuomo.

In the stretch run of his bid for re-election, and one step ahead of an ongoing investigation into alleged interference with the Moreland Commission, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week made yet another campaign trip to Niagara Falls to officially announce a project we told you about two months ago.

That would be the hotel/food service/splash park/daredevil center proposed for the former Rainbow Centre Mall, across the street from One Niagara, which has been successfully feeding tourists, selling gifts and souvenirs, arranging tours and employing hundreds for the past decade.

In the June 3rd issue of the Reporter we broke the story that negotiations were taking place towards building a splash park at the site of the former mall, courtesy of Assemblyman John Ceretto who told the Reporter about the plans at an informal lunch at the Como restaurant on Pine Ave.

The lead developer of the proposed new $150 million complex, Uniland of Amherst, NY, apparently never heard of Andrew Cuomo when he ran for Attorney General in 2006. They donated nothing to that campaign. However, they contributed $2500 to his gubernatorial campaign in 2010, chipped in an additional $2500 in 2012, and accelerated payments in 2014, with two payments totaling $3000 on Jan. 6 and an additional $2500 on Feb. 19 totaling $11,500.

In addition to the company's donations, its president, Carl J. Montante, has made at least $12,000 in campaign donations to Cuomo and is in fact listed as the 19th largest donor to Cuomo in Erie County.

Instead of at City Hall, in front of the actual former Rainbow Blvd. mall, or any other suitable location within the city, the Governor instead chose to make his announcement on Goat Island in the Niagara Falls State Park. There was no advance publicity of his press conference. As per usual for the governor's appearances during his first term, here and in Buffalo, select political insiders and corporate campaign contributors received personal invitations while the public at large was excluded.

Why did the governor choose Goat Island, of all places, instead of the city? As has been repeatedly observed by local media, Cuomo's first few visits to Buffalo during his earlier tenure were exclusively either at Buffalo State College or the University of Buffalo campus, carefully controlled settings where the University police kept a lid on things, whisked the governor in and out in his black SUV, and herded fracking and gun rights protesters to some remote corner far away from those who lead our representative democracy.

Somehow we are not on the Governor's contact list and therefore did not receive an invitation to his press conference, however, one attendee did pass along to us the following observation: "The governor arrived with more security than I've ever seen. I mean, he was surrounded by guys in black suits with sunglasses like they were Secret Service. He must think he's the President, or at least practicing."

In addition to his private bodyguards, the State Parks Police maintained a presence much as they did for the Wallenda plaque dedication last month, where a half dozen of them milled around, glowering at the subdued crowd of 40 or so citizens and local politicians who smiled, laughed and clapped during the proceedings.

Who can blame Cuomo for sticking to a locked-down Goat Island instead of the messy city? That's where the unwashed masses live, and possibly ill-mannered individuals who would be inclined to catcall the governor, resulting in embarrassing footage on the 6 o'clock news.

The governor, although not actually physically present in the city he was talking about, waxed eloquent and enthusiastic about its prospects, brightened apparently due to the tax dollars he was returning to us in the form of a portion of the Buffalo Billion.

"The pieces build on each other... the energy builds on each other" stated the Albany Law School graduate and former Attorney General.

No one seems to know exactly what "pieces" he was referring to.

Perhaps the "pieces" of Three Sisters Islands, the worn boulders riven by centuries of Niagara River currents that were hauled away or buried by bulldozers in keeping with his Niagara Falls State Park "Landscape Improvements" plan that further obliterated the natural beauty of the park.

Maybe he was referring to the Schoellkopf "pieces" that were part of a National Historic Landmark application prior to James Glynn needing a new boat storage yard, or the "pieces" of the tourist trade that accidently find their way into the city once a newly-rebuilt Robert Moses Parkway is in place.

Eight million tourists a year visit Niagara Falls State Park every year, but the city is one of the poorest in the entire northeastern U.S. They are funneled into Niagara Falls State Park on a dedicated roadway, park on one of 1200 paid parking spaces, ride the Maid of the Mist and step through the guano at Cave of the Winds, gobble pre-processed junk food courtesy of Delaware North, purchase gifts and souvenirs at the Observation Tower and Top of the Falls restaurant/gift shop, and exit on the same parkway, with little need or reason to enter or spend money in the city.

That's why the Rainbow Centre Mall ultimately closed after steadily declining year after year for two decades. That's why this new development - after receiving untold millions in tax incentives - may suffer the same fate.

History repeats, and nothing is learned from it, while the politicians and their rich friends prosper at our expense.





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