Niagara Gazette

January 5, 2014

Casino cash fix, council makeover has Dyster optimistic about 2014

Casino cash fix, council makeover has administration optimistic

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls begins 2014 in a more stable position than it did 2013.

The city, though still faced with many of the same challenges that plague upstate cities across New York state, can move forward without the threat of financial calamity, with the expectation that it will be paid tens of millions of dollars in casino revenue payments and with a healthy fund balance, all results of the settlement reached between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state last summer, with the entities returning to the terms outlined in the 2002 gaming compact that saw a 27-story casino erected in downtown Niagara Falls.

The settlement, along with a renewed interest in the city from Albany, has Mayor Paul Dyster confident that 2014 will be a big year for the Cataract City.

“It’s going to be an exciting time,” he said this past week,

Another stabilizing factor Dyster believes will create an environment for success, he said, is the election of three council members who vowed to work with the mayor to move the city forward during their fall campaigns.

Councilman Andrew Touma will join Council Chairman Charles Walker and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti on the city’s legislative body creating a council that Dyster said will be willing to work with him on some of the difficult issues the city will continue to attempt to tackle.

Dyster often found himself at odds with the former council majority of former Councilman Sam Fruscione, who lost his seat in the fall elections, Councilman Glenn Choolokian and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr.

“We have many things that we’ve lined up that maybe were delayed some time during this period of political turbulence in the city that now we’re going to have the opportunity to get started or to get moving again or to come to completion in 2014,” the mayor said.

Dyster and the city continue to face major financial challenges similar to those in other upstate cities that the mayor hopes to address this year.

Dyster, who used more than $4 million in reserve funds to plug a gap in the adopted budget for 2014, failed to gain the support of the council in his push for the city to participate in the state’s new financial advisory program called the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments last fall.

Both Grandinetti and Walker, along with Choolokian and Fruscione, voted down a measure from the mayor asking for approval to participate in the program. Anderson was absent from that meeting.

Dyster said he plans to work with the council to convince them the city’s participation in the program will help in figuring out a long-term solution for closing the gap between spending and revenues.

“There are a huge number of positive things that are happening here, but if we’re unable to resolve the long-term structural financial situation it has the potential to undermine all of the other good things that are happening,” Dyster said.

Dyster said some of the positive things that happened in 2013 could have otherwise set up a disastrous 2014. Had the deal between the Senecas and the state fallen through or had the deal that will see the Hamister Group erect a five-story mixed-use building downtown unraveled the city would be much worse off, he said.

“This could have been a very bleak 2014,” he said.

But with the Hamister project expected to begin construction this fall, the state expected to award an incentive package to a developer for the remaining portion of the former Rainbow Centre mall building and the state’s Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge starting up — which will see the city and state put up $4 million each for the next five years to spur downtown attraction development — the city is on it’s way to building a critical mass downtown, Dyster said.

Those projects will help to set up a situation where private sector investment will begin to build in the city, he added.

“When those things start to move there’s a momentum that builds there beyond, maybe, what you could anticipate just looking at the pieces where the city and state are the main shakers and movers,” Dyster said. “I think we’re getting there. There’s like a tipping point. I don’t know if we’re past it but we’re certainly approaching it.”

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257