Niagara Gazette — Progress is complicated. If it was easy, we would live in a much different city and a completely different world. The development of Niagara Falls has been a hot topic over the past few months in the media, coffee shops, and around kitchen tables. Unfortunately, many of those conversations are more about personalities than bricks and mortar. As your mayor, I think it is important that we look at where we have come from and why it is so important that we keep moving forward.
Just a few years ago, the former Rainbow Centre Mall was completely vacant, the United Office Building was rotting away, and the old Wintergarden sat as a painful reminder of our past’s broken promises. Downtown, our gateway to the world, was an embarrassment. Then something necessary and refreshing happened: we executed a development strategy as a team. We progressed.
In 2013, one third of the former Rainbow Centre is home to the beautiful Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. The United Office Building was reborn as the Giacomo Hotel & Apartments, and the Wintergarden gave way to the restoration of Old Falls Street. Despite any spin or editorializing, these are the facts on the ground, and they speak for themselves. Today, people visit these attractions and enjoy themselves, instead of walking by empty buildings shaking their heads. The private sector noticed the improvements and is ready to invest more money into Niagara Falls. This investment will create construction jobs for our trades men and women, permanent jobs at the new businesses that open, tax revenue for the city, and longer stays by our visitors.
Just last week, we received impressive proposals for the remaining two thirds of the Rainbow Centre from two very strong development teams. The private sector is gaining confidence that the business climate is improving and our market is getting stronger. Right now, six hotels are being developed and hopefully we are close to finishing the development agreement for 310 Rainbow Boulevard, a site that was gifted to us as part of the Rainbow Centre transaction. None of this development happened behind closed doors. The city partnered with the private sector, USA Niagara, Empire State Development, and the Niagara County to select developers, coordinate incentives, and get the public approvals needed to complete the jobs.
It does not matter who gets credit or which government officials cut the ribbon. The half-truths, political rhetoric and inevitable nay-saying that we are experiencing now are quickly forgotten once a project gets finished. The problem is that if we don’t honor our word as elected officials, and treat not only each other but potential developers with dignity and respect, these projects may not happen at all. The partnerships matter. The jobs that are created and the tax revenues that are generated matter. Relieving the tax burden on existing residents through growth matters. The physical improvement of our city, and the growing pride that it brings, matter. At the end of the day, our community’s success and survival are the only focal points.
We have a great deal of work left to do, and we have to stop getting in our own way. It’s hard enough getting the job done without bickering amongst ourselves. We know where infighting and poor decisions got us in the past — vacant shopping malls, shuttered historic buildings, embarrassing news stories, and people shaking their heads. For the first time in a generation, we have momentum that has already produced real results. Let’s build on it, project by project, and progress together.Paul Dyster is the mayor of Niagara Falls.