Niagara Gazette

12 Months, 12 Issues

January 30, 2010

12 MONTHS 12 ISSUES: Roll of the dice

When the Seneca Niagara Casino opened on New Year’s Eve 2002, it was surrounded by neighborhoods of rotting and dilapidated housing and vacant storefronts lined nearby Niagara Street.

Eight years later, the view hasn’t really changed.

“It’s pretty much what you could have predicted,” said Bryant Simon, director of the American Studies Program in the Department of History at Temple University, and an expert on casinos and urban renewal. “Since the 1970s, we’ve always wanted our urban renewal to be quick fixes.”

Simon said that has led state and local governments to push for the construction of all types of mega-projects like theme parks, aquariums, sports stadiums and, of course, casinos. But Simon, who has written a book on the economic development experiences of Atlantic City, said there are no silver bullets when it comes to revitalizing a blighted city.

“(Niagara Falls) could have looked at Atlantic City, they could have looked at Detroit,” Simon said. “(Casinos) basically destroyed local business in Atlantic City.”

While city and state leaders painted a picture in 2002 of restaurants and retail outlets flooding into the South End to cater to crowds of casinogoers, the reality has been starkly different.

While new restaurants such as Caffe Lola, Murphy’s and Wine on Third have opened on Third Street since the casino arrived, others like Shadow, Cafe Etc. and the Orchard Grill on Main Street have shut their doors. Simon said 250 Atlantic City restaurants went out of business as multiple casinos opened there.

Yet local developer Shawn Weber, the man behind the Third Street restaurants and the renovation of the Jefferson Apartments, said none of those ventures would have happened without the casino.

“I can’t imagine what the city would look like today without (the casino),” Weber said. “Wine (on Third) wouldn’t be there, the Jefferson renovation would have never happened without it. Murphy’s wouldn’t be there. I think everything would be boarded up and empty.”

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