Niagara Gazette

July 6, 2013

Falls re-ups with National Development Council for $72K

By Mark Scheer mark.scheer@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A non-profit development group that has been helping the city negotiate with several high-profile hoteliers and business owners will get an extra year on the job.

Members of the NFC Development Corp., a lending arm of the city that provides grants and low-interest loans to area businesses, last week approved a one-year extension to an agreement with the National Development Council. The contract, which runs from June 1 through May 31, 2014, will pay NDC $72,000 for its services.

The NDC specializes in helping urban and rural communities secure financing, tax credits and other assistance for large-scale developments. Dyster attempted in 2010 to convince members of the city council to approve the organization’s hiring under the city’s budget. A majority of lawmakers balked at the idea, prompting Dyster to make a similar request to the NDC a few months later. The NDC’s board formally approved the request in January 2011 and the NDC has been working with the city ever since.

Dyster said the NDC and its lead representative, Robert Sweet, have provided the city with invaluable economic development expertise and contacts. He said the group also offers professional help for the city’s economic development department, which currently does not have a full-time director.

“For $72,000 a year, we’re in effect getting a first-class staff person who is on call all the time,” the mayor said.

While Dyster admitted the group’s efforts have not resulted in any “shovels in the ground” at this point, Dyster said he’s confident the relationship will produce positive development results in the future.

Dyster said Sweet and the NDC have been instrumental in maintaining dialogue with several existing business owners in the city as well as engaging in discussions with new developers from outside the region.

One of the developers on NDC’s list is Niagara Falls Redevelopment, the firm owned by New York City real estate developer Howard Milstein. NFR and its affiliates own more than 400 parcels in the downtown area, including the former Nabisco plant off John B. Daly Boulevard.

In its pitch to extend the city’s service agreement with the NDC, the city’s economic development department suggested Sweet’s group has been involved in discussions focused on advancing a new “downtown development” involving NFR.

“We’ve used him to talk to development entities in cases where there’s been some history of tension in the past relationship or maybe where we felt like we haven’t communicated as well as we should have,” Dyster said. “Actually, I’d say things are as good as they’ve been in a long time with NFR.”

Economic development staffer Joe Collura indicated that the NDC will continue to meet with representatives from NFR and Lewiston developer Smokin’ Joe Anderson in the future as part of “working toward a framework for advancing new projects.”

Dyster said his office is also working with NDC to establish the “Grown Niagara Falls Fund,” a revolving loan fund designed to offer long-term financing, low equity requirement, flexible underwriting criteria and limited pre-payment penalties to help local businesses expand.

Dyster also contends that without a contract with NDC, the city will no longer have access to “New Market Tax Credits,” complex financial instruments that can be used to help finance large-scale development projects.

Over the past year, the city’s economic development staff says NDC has helped advance several projects “closer to an implementation decision,” including:

• Expansion of the Sheraton at the Falls hotel and rehabilitation of the Days Inn downtown.

• JBI, Inc.’s plans for a manufacturing expansion project in the Buffalo Avenue industrial corridor.

• A “mixed-use downtown development,” possibly involving new housing construction, that is being considered by an unnamed Canadian developer.

• Redevelopment of the old Unifrax headquarters building on Whirlpool Street by the firm, TM Montante Development.

• A proposed “research, manufacturing and office” project being considered by the firm, Blue Sky Optimum Energy, Inc., in the Highland Avenue area.

• Redevelopment of a brownfield at Highland and Beech avenues by Brightfields, LLC.

• A “manufacturing expansion project” by Globe Metallurgical, Inc. off Highland Avenue and a proposed technology project under development by SantaRosa Holdings on a College Avenue brownfield site.

Dyster described the projects on the table as being in various stages of development, but said they are on a level where if even one or two are successful they will offer significant jobs and benefits to the community.

“We’ve got a lot of projects out there that could utilize, potentially, complex financing,” Dyster said. “There are some significant projects out there and some of these are potentially large projects.”

Paul Dyster Group's expertise "invaluable"