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SEP 02- SEP 09, 2014

Will Dyster's Vision Return City to Economic Viability?

By Mike Hudson

September 02, 2014

The five-story Hamister Hotel.

Whether you agree with it or not, you can't say that Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster is not a man of vision.

The major projects initiated or expanded upon during his administration have shown him to be a big believer in massive public works projects and public private partnerships funded for the most part with a mixture of taxpayer dollars and the city's share of revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino, often with a little help from his friends at the state run USA Niagara Development Corp.

The courthouse on North Main Street, the NCCC Culinary Institute and recently announced Wonder Falls project at the former Rainbow Centre Mall, the highly touted Hamister hotel project and the new train station and Underground Railroad interpretive center on Whirlpool Street combine to represent the outlay of as much as $100 million, and are all examples of the Dyster vision.

When the courthouse project was initially mandated by the state, it called for a $14 million facility that would simply house the city courts, which were formerly located on Hyde Park Boulevard. It quickly ballooned in scope to include a new police station, jail and dispatch center.

Expansion of the project's scope, and numerous cost overruns turned the $14 million project into a $47 million example of the mayor's vision. Dyster called the new courthouse "transformational" and promised it would breathe new life into the city's depressed North End. Results have been mixed.

Much the same can be said for the NCCC Culinary Institute. Baltimore developer David Cordish gifted the city with the former Rainbow Centre Mall in 2010.

At the 2012 ribbon cutting for the NCCC Culinary institute, Dyster was enthusiastic.

"The Niagara Falls Culinary Institute is an innovative state of the art facility that's a testament to the cooperative power of education, government and the private sector," he said. "With today's ribbon cutting our Niagara Falls downtown has taken a major turn that will yield immediate benefits along with long-range potential development for years to come."

The $26 million, 90,000 square foot project took up about a third of the space in the former mall.

The new city train station and Underground Railroad interpretive center or "Intermodal Transportation Center" as Dyster and his City Planner Tom DeSantis call it, was designed to move Amtrack passenger service from its currently bleak location off of Lockport Road to an arguably equally bleak location on Whirlpool Street underneath the Whirlpool Bridge.

Originally announced as a $26 million project, its true cost cannot be known, since it hasn't opened yet.

The Hamister hotel project was deemed so urgent back in November of last year that poor old Sam Fruscione got booted off the city Council just for asking questions about it. He was characterized as an "obstructionist" in the local media, and everyone from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Dyster himself ganged up on him.

Thus far, Hamister has received an incentive package from the state worth $2.75 million and a prime piece of real estate downtown appraised at more than $1.5 million for a payment of $100,000.

Construction was to have begun in April of this year, but April came and went as did May, June, July and August. Sources familiar with the situation told the Niagara Falls Reporter that no groundbreaking would take place this year.

Few details have been made available on the $150 million Wonder Falls project, which would take up the remaining space at the Rainbow Centre Mall and would also be largely taxpayer subsidized. It was announced last month with huge fanfare as a hotel, spa, retail, resort type deal and handed to Delaware North and Uniland Development.

It was announced that the "planning process" could take as long as 18 months, which would pretty much coincide with Dyster's 2015 reelection bid.

Whether or not Dyster's vision will stanch the flow of middle class residents fleeing the city for points south and west and return Niagara Falls to economic prosperity remains to be seen.

But you can't blame a guy for trying.





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