Niagara Gazette

August 4, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Economic development and the Hamister project

By Andy Touma
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls has gone through an extended period of disappointing economic growth and increasing political polarization. If the transformation of our community into a prime tourist destination is to take place, then city leaders must work as one with one vision and a deliberate plan of action.

Niagara Falls must take advantage of sound economic development opportunities either in the form of multi-million dollar projects or small business ventures. We must begin to fast-track economic development and the jobs that come along with it. Let’s not only go find the developers but when they arrive, they must be guaranteed that we will negotiate in good faith and be upfront with all of our concerns.

“Over the years, Niagara Falls has developed an unfortunate reputation for being a place where good projects go to die, often due to infighting, poor decision making, and petty politics.” (Niagara Gazette editorial, July 17)

Presently our city and its residents have the opportunity to benefit from the development of a hotel on the Parcel 4, located on 310 Rainbow Boulevard. The developer is the Hamister Group Inc. Do you know that when the Rainbow Center Mall opened in 1982, it was the expectation of city planners that the development of Parcel 4 would soon follow? However, developer David S. Cordish never proposed anything substantial for this site. Furthermore, had not Parcel 4 been included with the transfer of Rainbow Center to Niagara County Community College, Cordish would have retained the lease on this property until 2056.

In his June 2009 audit, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli faulted city government for a lack of oversight regarding the leases extended to Cordish and NFR. DiNapoli said, “On something like economic development, you can’t just do it on a hope and good faith. You really do need to specify more clearly what the benchmarks are.”

The so-called city council majority are being obstructionist to the Hamister proposal. As Comptroller DiNapoli stated in 2009, where are the specific and clear proposals from this majority as to what they desire for the development of Parcel 4? Just throwing out an arbitrary amount for the purchase of Parcel No. 4 isn’t what DiNapoli was recommending.

“This is all too familiar in Niagara Falls. By rights, it should be one of the nation’s prime tourist cities, but instead it is a derelict and much of the blame for that can be traced to greed, incompetence and corruption in city government.” (Buffalo News editorial, July 23).

How can the council majority justify to the taxpayers the present use of Parcel 4 as a parking lot in which the developer is paying the city only $27,000 annually, and receiving $12 in profit for every $1 it pays the city? Conversely, the Hamister Group is investing $22 million in private money that is part of a $25 million project?

The council majority argues that the land is worth more than the $100,000 outlined in the deal.”I’d like to see a fair and equitable price that’s beneficial to all the people of Niagara Falls.” (Sam Fruscione, July 4, Niagara Gazette). Is the parking lot on Parcel 4 producing income that is beneficial to all the people of Niagara Falls?

The city council voted unanimously in February 2012 to accept the Hamister Group as the project’s preferred developer and that its contribution to the project would be the land for $100,000. The Hamister Project will produce construction and permanent jobs, new tax revenues, bed tax, sales tax, and parking revenue.

Fruscione was in favor of the plan. “It’s a great plan and we are looking forward to having it built down there.” (Fruscione, Feb. 23, 2012, Niagara Gazette) “I was born in 1966, and all I’ve ever seen them do is knock the buildings down, so to see something actually being built in my lifetime is big.” (Sam Fruscione, Feb. 23, 2012, Buffalo News).

The only restrictions Fruscione had for Hamister’s project was that he wanted to see 100 percent local hiring and prevailing wages for construction workers. Fruscione even cited the more than 200 construction jobs and the 130 permanent jobs that could be associated with this project.

In a recent YNN Poll, 83 percent of the residents of Niagara Falls were in favor of the Hamister Project. Now the council majority needs to make the appropriate decision and move this project forward. Our residents deserve to be heard. This project will instill a positive climate within the city and send a clear a message to other developers that Niagara Falls is open for business and eager to work with them to revitalize our community.

Andrew Touma is a candidate for the Niagara Falls City Council.