Niagara Gazette

July 28, 2013

GLYNN: Falls faced crisis in the '70s

By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

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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OUT OF THE PAST: Don’t be surprised if you spot a World War II bomber flying over the Buffalo-Niagara area  Monday afternoon. It will be the famous “Memphis Belle,” a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, marking the 70th anniversary of its historic last mission. The special media flight is closed to the general public but the aircraft will be available for flights and ground tours Aug. 3-4 at  Prior Aviation, 50 North Airport Drive, adjacent to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.

Scott Maher, director of flight operations for the non-profit Liberty Foundation, which owns and maintains the historic plane, said the organization spends upward of $1.5 million a year to keep the B-17 airworthy and out on tour.

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IN THE PARK: The storm last weekend brought down a number of trees and limbs that blocked sections of the popular hiking trails. Tom Watt, general manager of the Niagara Falls State Park, estimated it would take six to eight weeks of work to restore the trails to their condition before the storm. In addition, a mud slide in one area will require nearly three weeks to restore the site.

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FAMILY TIES: Local historians are planning a series of programs to commemorate the roles of Augustus Porter and his brother Peter Buell Porter during the War of 1812. The talks will be scheduled in September and October in the second-floor auditorium of the Earl W. Brydges Library. Among the discussion leader will be Paul Gromosiak, Bob Emerson, Christopher Stianoff, and Sherman Zavitz. Details to be announced later.

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FINAL NOTICE: Sign in front of a local church: “Jesus — Don’t Leave Earth Without Him.”

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.