Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino seeks to take between 10 and 12 acres of private property via eminent domain. The taking is part of his plan to build a 6,000 to 7,000-seat events center, a parking ramp for 500 cars, and a small park with an ice skating rink and other amenities he plans to call Centennial Park.
However, Niagara Falls Redevelopment (NFR), which owns Parcel 0, is planning to use it as a high-tech data center, creating 550 permanent jobs and not costing taxpayers any money.
If the City successfully persuades the New York State Appellate Court that the taking of Parcel 0 is for a “public purpose,” the City will pay NFR the sum the City’s appraiser estimates is the market value of Parcel 0.
Mayor Restaino admitted the City does not have money to develop the Centennial Park project, which he estimates is about $150 million.
The City also does not have the money to buy the land from NFR.
The last eminent domain proceeding between New York State and NFR, which began in 2004, took seven years to litigate, and the present eminent domain proceedings may go on for at least as long. The proceedings cost the parties millions in legal fees, a figure NFR more than made up for by its determined litigation over the land value.
Hodgson Russ, the Buffalo law firm representing the City in the eminent domain process, retained Buffalo appraisers Emminger Newton Pigeon & Magyar to appraise Parcel 0 for the City.
The final cost to the City for legal costs and the final sales price will not be known until the matter is concluded, possibly in or around 2030, though the City will pay legal fees on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Mayor Restaino wants to finance the property’s legal fees and acquisition by borrowing an estimated $150 million against the next twenty years of Federal block grant monies. These Federal monies are intended to support low and middle-income neighborhoods. Traditionally Niagara Falls has used block grant money for street and sidewalk repairs, water and sanitary sewer facilities, senior centers, public services, and historic preservation.
Is Mayor Restaino quixotically tilting at a windmill? Can Niagara Falls’ low and middle-income neighborhoods afford such a foolish quest when their future and economic security hang in the balance?