Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 1, 2009

USA NIAGARA: The ‘Times Square’ promise

Years after infamous claim, downtown still struggling to find identity

Former Gov. George Pataki signaled the beginning of a “new chapter” in the history of Niagara Falls in January of 2001 — the formation of USA Niagara Development Corp.

The division of the state economic development department was formed with the express purpose of bringing a “brighter and stronger” future to the city’s downtown business district.

In theory, the new organization was supposed to create the same sort of public-private sector partnerships that had helped the state revitalize Times Square in New York City.

In practice, Pataki’s big promise has been slow to materialize.

Or at least slower to materialize than many residents and business owners in Niagara Falls had hoped.

“We’re not trying to criticize or attack,” said Dan Vecchies, one Third Street developer who has expressed frustration about a lack of progress downtown. “We’re asking for accountability. They haven’t done what they set out to do.”

The agency’s current president, Christopher Schoepflin, insists USA Niagara has done a lot in its eight years on the job. He believes critics have ignored progress that has already been made. He notes the agency has endured some significant challenges — the aftermath of 9/11, the abrupt departure of Pataki’s successor, Eliot Spitzer and the current economic crisis to name a few. He also said his team does not operate in a vacuum and other partners, including the city and its private investors, all play crucial roles in the success of the downtown business district.

“I would take the position that given the amount of resources that we have and have invested, we have made significant progress amid a number of challenges,” said Schoepflin, who has led USA Niagara since 2003. “I can’t speak to going all the way back to day one other than to say we had a marketplace that had suffered from decades of disinvestment and decline. Not only have we stemmed that to a certain degree, but I think, in some cases, we have reversed it.”

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