A half-million dollars here, a half-million dollars there. Pretty soon, we’re talking about real money.

That’s what the city is facing in its latest effort at handing out corporate welfare. The most recent dash for cash involves the grand old lady of downtown Niagara Falls hotels, the Hotel Niagara. It was built back in the 1920s and has been alternately a beacon of grandeur and a symbol of decay in the downtown area.

Its new owners, James and Judith Cook of Houston, want to restore it to its former glory. They’re proposing putting more than $15 million into the building in order to bring it back.

That’s wonderful. We wish them well and hope their venture succeeds. Fifteen million dollars in new private investment is a real shot in the arm to the region.

Where we have a problem is at the point where the private investment turns public. The city of Niagara Falls is being asked to kick in $500,000 to aid in the hotel’s renovation. Why? Mayor Paul Dyster supports the cash grab. The money will come from that old standby, casino cash. He says it is a proper use of that money; to aid the development of downtown and create jobs.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen that $500,000 figure thrown around. There’s a proposal still on the table that would shovel a half-mil to the owners of the Four Points Sheraton for a similar purpose.

We hope there’s room on that table for the Hotel Niagara plan as well and urge the City Council to send it there and allow it to die a natural death. We think public money, from slot machines or any other source, should be used for public purposes. Here we go again: Fix the streets, trim the trees, clean up vacant lots and demolish abandoned buildings.

This city has so many needs that have been neglected for so many years. It’s foolish to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars to private businesses who will probably go ahead with their plans whether they get the money or not.

Niagara Falls should take care of its own unfinished business. There’s so much of it.

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