Niagara Gazette

Columns

July 28, 2013

GLYNN: Falls faced crisis in the '70s

Niagara Gazette — When you read about the disaster facing Detroit, it makes you think that perhaps Niagara Falls isn’t in such dire straits after all. The long-delayed payment of this city’s share of the slot machine revenue from the casino obviously helped brighten the fiscal picture.

In the 1970s — long before the Seneca Nation of Indians converted the Niagara Falls Convention & Civic Center to a gambling palace — the Cataract City was struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Some longtime residents may argue that conditions weren’t all that dismal, but the truth is the leaders in City Hall at the time had spent about $4.8 million they didn’t have. The record also will show that, in fact, the deficit would reach $6.3 million before any firm action was pursued. The saving grace then, as it turned out, was a new City Management Advisory Board, spearheaded by experts in municipal affairs, business and industry. One of the powerful voices throughout that impressive effort was William H. Wendel, president of the Carborundum Co. and civic leader.

The city was rescued from that plight. Still, major problems persisted, Some 37,000 manufacturing jobs were eventually lost and the city’s population — more than 100,000 in 1960 — has dropped to about 48,000.

There’s no question that Niagara Falls could yet benefit from some outside help but don’t try to convince the city council of that. One former city official, bitter over the current council-mayor friction, said, “We probably shouldn’t even be a city.” He agreed that the present set up at City Hall is not conducive to fostering friendly relations with other municipalities. He cited the example of rejecting an offer from a Buffalo foundation to help revitalize the city.  

Niagara Falls was just one of many cities in trouble during the 1970s. New York City Mayor Abraham Beam had actually signed a formal petition attesting to that city’s default but an 11th hour meeting of major parties — finally agreeing to share the blame — avoided that bankruptcy. Gov. Hugh L. Carey also played a key role in resolving the crisis.

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