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JUNE 30 - JULY 08, 2015

Use of Casino Revenue

By Anna Howard

JUNE 30, 2015

Downtown Niagara Falls was once a bustling small city, as shown in this postcard of Falls Street. The town's 1965 urban renewal plan changed all that.
The Robert Moses Parkway cut off pedestrian access to the Niagara Gorge.
Mayor Dyster’s casino cash plan.
Once a thriving city.

Quick, you have five seconds to think of a single, major, positive, game-changing project or expenditure that the Dyster administration has carried out with casino revenue!

One, two, three, four…five.

Couldn’t think of a thing, could you? That’s okay because neither could the Reporter.

It didn’t have to be this way.

There have been plenty of opportunities and needs and requests and suggestions from the community with regard to promoting game-changing projects and expenditures.

Projects or expenditures that would have been memorable; memorable in a way that would have caused people to sit up and say, “See that? That was built for the community with casino revenue. That was thought out and cooperatively put together for the good of the greater community and it will stand for years to come!”

The Reporter has written previously of the wisdom of using the casino revenue to reduce the tax burden. Imagine if those lower taxes were then used to promote Niagara Falls as a community to live and do business in because “We’re lowering taxes when the rest of the state is raising them!”

The single greatest recreation and green asset in the city is Hyde Park. Imagine how the casino revenue could have been used to update, improve and make Hyde Park the municipal jewel it could be, but isn’t.

No studies necessary, the residents have a gut feeling for what is needed in the park: children’s new playground equipment throughout; a basketball half court; street hockey pad; improved volleyball courts; repaired lawn bowling greens; improved bocce facilities; renovated baseball diamonds; a soccer field; rebuilt rose garden; attention to the forgotten monuments, markers and memorial trees; improved lake shoreline with dead trees removed and new plantings; care and attention to the many ill, dead and suffering trees in the park; and, a rededication and commitment to the day-to-day care of the trees, vegetation and lawns.

But none of the above has been done.

What the administration did do was purchase a $275,000 study out of Rochester that called for – you guessed it – additional studies as to how Hyde Park could be improved.

Casino revenue could have been directed toward an expansion of services and facilities for city seniors. A LaSalle area senior facility could have been built while the services at the Duke facility could have been enhanced.

The administration could have made a major commitment to the library system through the purchase of – lord forbid – books! Library learning programs could have been expanded and an allocation could have been made for library computers and contemporary learning tools. A culture and a community are defined as to how they value the written word and the act of learning.

Having said that what can be said about the Niagara Falls community?

Dutch Elm disease destroyed hundreds of vibrant, large trees across the city in the 1960’s and the tree stock never fully recovered. Lost forever were the distinctive tall shade trees that lined city streets, adding value to property and beautifying the city. Casino revenue could have been used to maintain and improve the city’s existing tree inventory while carrying out long-range plantings.

Similarly a massive citywide sidewalk improvement program could have been launched. Instead there is an on-going piece meal effort that never solves the problem and consequently sidewalks are forever in disrepair.

But, hey, roads were paved, right?

Yes, roads were paved. But were they paved right? It’s not even debatable that many of the roads that were paved just three years ago are literally coming apart at the seams. Was the work poorly performed or were the materials stretched or misused in order to create the impression of massive work being carried out? That doesn’t even matter now, what does matter is that many of those roads are presently coming undone.

This administration has spent both city revenue and casino revenue to build “new parks” while letting routine park maintenance go. That’s unacceptable and foolish but it fools no one.

As of Saturday June 27, the grass in the “restored” Jayne Park was over a foot tall. The administration crowed about the restoration work (work the residents never wanted) and yet refuses to cut the grass. The dirty little administration secret is that parks workers are being paid overtime to maintain a grass-cutting schedule that was never, until now, an overtime expense.

With all of the recent talk from the administration about the need to fund a summer camp school district program in order to “help the children” why wasn’t casino revenue used to support a city recreation center? Does the administration genuinely want to help children or does the administration only want to toss children into the argument when it’s politically expedient? I think we know the answer to that question.

Casino money - $182.2 million to be exact – spent- all but $14 million of that paid out during the administration of Mayor Paul Dyster ($14 million to the Anello administration); casino money wasted, and not one meaningful or memorable project in the mix.

That’s not just a shame, it’s a downright shame, the kind historians write about sometime in the future, alongside the other great stupidities of our city – like Urban Renewal knocking down all the wonderful tourist shops and attractions for grandiose plans that were never built, or the Robert Moses Parkway blocking off our waterfront (it still does) like the great wall of China.

A real crying shame.





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