By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — The region's largest philanthropic organization has issued a challenge to the Niagara Falls City Council: Restore the funding that you have denied the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center and we will match every dollar.
The John R. Oishei Foundation sent a press release out Monday afternoon saying the organization was issuing a challenge grant "in direct response to the City Council's elimination of the NACC's $30,000 allocation even after it was passed in the 2013 annual budget."
The foundation will match any funds the city council restores to the NACC up to $15,000, according to the release.
Robert D. Gioia, the president of the foundation, said his organization considers the NACC to be one of the most important cultural institutions in the city.
"We feel very strongly we need to do whatever we can and use our resources to secure the future of strong institutions," he said. "The NACC is one of those."
Three City Council members — Chairman Glenn Choolokian, Sam Fruscione and Robert Anderson Jr. — voted down a measure that would have allowed the administration to execute a funding agreement with the NACC. The agreement would have paid the institution the $30,000 in bed tax money as was outlined in the adopted budget.
Those council members cited mounting fiscal issues as the reason for their vote. Council members Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker voted to pass the measure.
Gioia hopes the foundation's challenge will help sway the opinions of the council members who voted to cut the funding.
"We're finding it hard to understand why this happened and we would certainly suggest that they reconsider," Gioia said.
Gioia said the foundation — which gave the NACC a $300,000 multi-year grant in 2007 — has been successful in restoring funding with challenge grants in Buffalo.
"The city has been very responsive," Gioia said.
Choolokian said that the council had not received a copy of the release by the time he was reached by the Gazette late Monday afternoon, but that he would review the proposal and discuss the match grant with his fellow council members.
Mayor Paul Dyster said last week he felt the funding cut was a political attack on him. Dyster was on the board of directors of the NACC and still supports the organization through donations.
He said the foundation has shown that it believes in the mission of the NACC.
"They've demonstrated in the past that they believe in this place," Dyster said.
Dyster said the arts organization provides a place for artists to work toward making a living, but also takes care of the 90-year-old former Niagara Falls High School building.
"It's a very large and prominent building and an anchor for the Pine Avenue business community," Dyster said.
Kathie Kudela, the NACC's volunteer executive director, said the continuing support of the foundation shows that it understands the value the arts organization has created for the community.
"They helped us move up a whole nother notch in terms of sustainability and development," Kudela said.
Kudela hopes the council will respond quickly, as money is getting tight for the organization, which maintains the 180,000-square-foot building.
"We hope the council responds to the challenge as soon as possible," Kudela said. "We have bills to pay and it's been a cold winter."