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DEC 10 - DEC 17, 2015

Did Dyster Know of Highland Ave. Grant When He Bought Dalacu Land?

By Mike Hudson

DEC 10, 2015

Science Museum aerial view


Is it simple good luck?

In July, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster proposed buying an environmentally challenged piece of land that was once a part of the sprawling Union Carbide complex on Highland Avenue for twice its’ assessed value.

The 5.5-acre property, at 3625 Highland Ave., was purchased for $165,000. Its’ value, according to the city Assessor’s office, is $72,200. There are three buildings on the parcel, at least two of which will have to be torn down.

Property owner Nick Dalacu bought the parcel for $40,000 in 2002. He had been trying to sell it on EBay for months but couldn’t find any takers. Still, City Planner Tom DeSantis and Council Chairman Andrew Touma said the city needed to acquire the property before it was snapped up by a private developer.

Touma, who marshalled a majority of the Council to vote in favor of the deal, was a little shaky of the details when interviewed by the Niagara Falls Reporter in August.

“Well, because it’s an opportunity and the city has the opportunity to purchase the property and then develop it,” Touma said when asked why they city was buying the Dalacu parcel. “…. the timing is right to purchase the property, you know, and get it ready for development.”

Asked whether the administration or the Council performed the normal due diligence customary when buying property that is likely to have hazardous waste buried on it, Touma said he didn’t know.

“I wouldn’t think the city would put itself in a position to buy a property that has contaminants,” Touma said.

DeSantis, the city’s acting director of planning and economic development, said that the purpose of the deal was to save Dalacu’s struggling science museum and provide a location for the “spinoff” he anticipates from the opening of a solar panel factory in Buffalo.

“With SolarCity coming online shortly, it will create a lot of demand for shovel-ready, industrial development sites,” he said. “The real purpose here is to convert, to regenerate those lands, those acres of former industrial property into property that actually becomes performing,” DeSantis said.

There was absolutely no indication that the Solar City project would have any spinoff that would travel as far as Niagara Falls.

In purchasing the Highland Avenue land, it looked as though Dyster was, in essence, buying a pig in a poke. Paying double the assessed value for a piece of property that might require millions of dollars’ worth of environmental remediation just didn’t seem to make any sense.

Until last week, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $375,000 Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) grant that specifically targets Highland Avenue and the Dalacu property. The grant will be used to “finance planning activities,” according to the press release, which is another way of saying hire consultants.

 “These designations are a vital step in transforming and revitalizing lands left to ruin in communities across the Empire State,” Cuomo said. “Despite being ignored for years, these sites have tremendous potential for developing local economies, and this new status gives these areas greater access to state resources needed to get projects underway as soon as possible.”

Did Dyster know of the state grant prior to purchasing the Dalacu property? That would explain the lack of concern on his, DeSantis and Touma’s part when questioned about environmental concerns. And if he did know about the grant money, did he tell the property owner that his largely worthless parcel would soon be cleaned up at taxpayer expense and become a very valuable piece of real estate?

Dyster’s proposal for the property calls for spending $160,000 this year for the purchase, $100,000 next year, $150,000 in 2017 and $300,000 each in 2018 and 2019 on the project. What will the $845,000 above and beyond the actual purchase price of the property be used for?

"Thank you Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of State for the resources to complete the Highland Community BOA in Niagara Falls,” read Mayor Dyster’s prepared statement. “This successful planning project has provided the City with a blueprint for the successful redevelopment of key sites within the BOA, and an official designation will help the city realize its goals."






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