By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — “Who is Milstein?”
That’s a question a local group of community organizers will begin asking on a Web site it plans to launch today as part of a larger campaign aimed at drawing attention to the state of development in downtown Niagara Falls.
Members of the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, or NOAH, are planning to gather near the intersection of Niagara Street and John B. Daly Boulevard this afternoon to discuss what they are calling their “art as action” campaign, which the group says is aimed at drawing attention to the “broken promises and lack of redevelopment that plagues Niagara Falls.”
Mehgan Miller, a Falls native and Niagara University graduate who serves as a spokesperson for NOAH, said the “Who is Milstein” Web site and development campaign represents “several months worth of research” performed by members of her organization. Miller said the research included reviews of various development contracts, planning documents, board decisions and other matters related to economic development, specifically in the downtown area. That includes Milstein’s own, Niagara Falls Redevelopment, a company that has, through various affiliates, purchased more than 400 parcels downtown since entering into a 1997 master redevelopment agreement with the city.
NOAH intends to formally launch the site, www.whoismilstein.com, following the press conference.
Because, Miller said, his companies own a significant portion of land downtown -- land NOAH members believe could be better served by one of the wealthiest real estate developers in the country.
“He has the unique position of being a very influential, powerful man who could be doing a lot of good things in this community, but is not,” Miller said, referring to Milstein.
Charles Zehren, a spokesman for Milstein’s office, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
NOAH organizers are students of the teachings of the Chicago-based Gamaliel Foundation, an organization that models its community advocacy activities after 1960s organizer Saul Alinsky. The Falls-based group has targeted Milstein and NFR on several occasions in the past.
This is not the first time NOAH members have attempted to draw attention to Milstein and NFR’s properties in Niagara Falls. Last June, they staged a mock ribbon-cutting ceremony in the 1300 block of Falls Street in an effort to decry what they described as a “total lack of progress” from development companies owned Milstein. Standing in front of a property owned by an NFR affiliate, NOAH members called on Milstein to produce redevelopment projects like those envisioned as part of his company’s original 1997 agreement with the city. They also criticized Gov. Cuomo for nominating Milstein as Thruway Authority chairman, saying they’d prefer he be asked to concentrate on his Niagara Falls holdings before taking on such an important state job.
While focused on Milstein, the site is not exclusive to the New York City real estate developer, Miller said.
“It’s not just Milstein,” Miller said. “It’s essentially the state of redevelopment in Niagara Falls.”
The goal of the campaign, Miller said, was to generate community interest in spurring local and state officials to take a more active role in advancing development projects in the city, particularly downtown. Miller said NOAH believes more can and should be done to generate private-sector investment and that it is time for city residents themselves to demand more accountability from the people who represent them in public office.
“One of the main focuses is the fact that the community - the citizens - haven’t been involved in the visioning process,” Miller said.
With the opening of the new Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and other projects moving forward on and near the Old Falls Street area, Miller said NOAH believes the time is right to engage elected officials, developers and residents in a dialogue about what more can and needs to be done to reshape the rest of the city’s core.
“It seems like the tide is changing a bit and we’re happy to capitalize on that,” Miller said.
NOAH’s press conference is in advance of a community meeting the group will hold from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The event is open to the public and will be held at the Word of Life Ministries, 1941 Hyde Park Blvd. Miller said several city and state officials have been invited to attend the session to discuss various economic development concerns in Niagara Falls.