Never let it be said that Citycide doesn't give credit where and when it's due.
City Hall sources have indicated that the administration of Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello has given notice to the owners of Greater Niagara Sports to remove the debris from the fallen former golf dome at the Hyde Park Golf Course. Or else.
Since GNS had shown no inclination to clean up the hazardous pile of rubber and canvas as of press time, city officials could, and should, take the next logical step and declare GNS in breach of the contract it signed with the city less than 18 months ago and evict the company from the golf course, and Niagara Falls, entirely.
City and company officials shamelessly tried to sell the Great Hyde Park Golf Course Giveaway as a win-win deal, a bargain "in the best interests" of the city's taxpayers.
What Niagara Falls got was an absentee tenant, one that never made much of an effort to carry out any of its bold promises.
GNS officials vowed to turn the former Adelphia Golf Dome into a venue for X Games-style competitions. Skateboards rolled at the facility exactly once, during the summer of 2004, only after the city donated the required fire and emergency personnel.
The deal required GNS to invest $500,000 in the dome's conversion in 2004. While at least some of that money was spent, it wasn't enough to keep it from collapsing under the weight of an April snowstorm.
Another condition demanded the company invest $350,000 in the Red Nine course this year. Not only has there been no visible sign of the promised renovation, city workers had to use city equipment for mowing and routine maintenance on the links.
The First Tee program, a key component in the GNS pitch, was supposed to offer golf and sportsmanship lessons to city kids on a daily basis. Instead, a handful of participants met once a week.
Hyde Park's driving range, long a source of substantial income for the city, sat unused on GNS's watch, with a bountiful array of shallow-rooted weeds sprouting from the artificial turf covering it.
Anello's administration invoked the "best interests" clause in the city charter in order to ram the sweetheart deal through, while dispensing with the bidding process required by state law.
Such technicalities contributed to a climate unfriendly to developers, company and city officials huffed. But the Hyde Park fiasco shows quite clearly just why open bidding on such projects is so important.
With no process in place, GNS never had to prove that it had the resources to make good on its promises. Or any resources at all, for that matter. The deal with the city doesn't even specify the company's shareholders, fueling speculation that many of the same people who had run up a six-figure debt with the city while operating the dome were getting a clean slate and keeping a piece of the action.
Assuming Anello's administration does the right thing -- quite a leap of faith, we'll concede -- and sends GNS packing, the question of what to do with the 36 holes at Hyde Park remains.
It became readily apparent in recent years that City Hall lacks the resources, expertise or desire to maintain and operate the golf course with any degree of efficiency, or even competence.
There's no shortage of companies out there with experience operating municipally owned golf courses. As Niagara Falls Reporter Editor in Chief Mike Hudson pointed out last week, the operator of Grand Island's River Oaks Golf Course has been interested in operating Hyde Park for years, but his most recent inquiry was ignored in the rush to give GNS whatever it wanted.
Privatization may well be the most profitable route for the city to take with the golf course. It's at least worth considering.
But having seen what happens when people who don't know how much a round of golf costs make backroom deals, it needs to be done right this time -- openly and honestly.
Ned Perlman, attorney for Save Hyde Park, the citizens' group that filed a lawsuit against the city and GNS over the deal, has appealed State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch's ruling that the city charter supersedes state law when it comes to bidding requirements on such deals.
Even if GNS winds up leaving town, the appeal should proceed. That's the only way we can find out, once and for all, if elected and appointed officials can make any deal they damn well please and get away with it by proclaiming it to be in "the best interests" of the people who pay their salaries.
A fond farewell goes out to Merideth Andreucci, former head of USA Niagara Development Corp., New York State's supposed development arm in Niagara Falls.
Chris Schoepflin has been tabbed as Andreucci's replacement by Charles Gargano, the chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., of which USA Niagara is a subsidiary.
Assuming Schoepflin is approved by USA Niagara's board of directors, which Gargano also controls, he'd be the agency's third executive director since it was created in 2001.
Now, a cynic might suggest that the position amounts to little more than a patronage dumping ground, a place to provide political hacks with a nice living. And that USA Niagara itself is little more than an empty gesture made by Gov. George Pataki in preparation for his 2002 re-election campaign, the same bid that spurred the compact creating the Seneca Niagara Casino.
In four years, USA Niagara can claim precisely two accomplishments. Converting the old Falls Street Faire into the Conference Center Niagara Falls and overseeing the streetscape construction on Third Street.
Its record of attracting private development, however, remains nonexistent. And despite semi-regular press conferences to the contrary, the United Office Building continues to steadily crumble under the stewardship of Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, a prolific campaign contributor who was allowed to purchase the Art Deco structure for $1 but has never actually taken title to it.
"USA Niagara Development Corporation ... is solely dedicated to the support and promotion of economic development initiatives in Niagara Falls by leveraging private investment and encouraging growth and renewal of the tourism industry in the City of Niagara Falls," reads the agency's Web site.
Of course, the agency's leaders have been saying that for four years. We're still waiting.
We'll end this one like we started it, by congratulating City Hall.
For years, "near the constitutional taxing limit" was a regular part of the conversation concerning the annual budget for the city of Niagara Falls.
Well, no more. The property-tax increases of more than 6 percent for homeowners and nearly 9 percent for business owners called for in Anello's budget will finally take Niagara Falls all the way to that limit.
Of course, according to Anello, it's all somehow the fault of former mayor Irene Elia, who will have been out of office for two years by the time the budget takes effect. You might think the city's tax crunch has more to do with the extinction of local industry, the administration's failure to attract any new private development or a City Hall culture more concerned with protecting cushy patronage jobs than running things efficiently.
But it's so much easier to blame Irene, isn't it?
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Oct. 11 2005|