What is Mayor Restaino's deal with the Seneca Nation?
What is Mayor Restaino's deal with the Seneca Nation?
Local News Niagara Falls Niagara Falls Redevelopment Robert Restaino

Niagara Falls Mayor Restaino Has Funding Problem

Mayor Robert Restaino's plans for $150 million Centennial Park in Niagara Falls face major funding roadblocks; NFR plan delivers economic development, 550 jobs.

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino plans to hold a third public hearing this month to move ahead with his $150 million Centennial Park development. But funding for the project is far from secure.

The Restaino plan includes a 6,000 to 7,000-seat arena for events, a 500-car parking ramp with walls for climbing, and its rooftop for concerts and a beer garden, a splash pad, adventure courses, and other amenities on the remaining three or four acres of unused parkland land. However, to proceed, Restaino needs to reduce the Centennial Park area from 12 to 10 acres.

What is Mayor Restaino’s deal with the Seneca Nation?

Restaino plans to take Parcel 0, the lead development parcel of some 140 acres of its assembled land, by eminent domain, which the current owner Niagara Falls Redevelopment (NFR) LLC, vehemently opposes. NFR has plans to develop the parcel into a technology and data center called Niagara Digital Campus.

NFR wants to develop Parcel 0 into a 600,000 square feet high-security, technologically advanced data center called Niagara Digital Campus. The NFR plan will bring economic revitalization to Niagara Falls along with 550 new jobs and cost the taxpayers nothing.

Restaino said he would use eminent domain if NFR did not donate the land to the city.

Months before the public hearing, Restaino said the City needed to own Parcel 0 before he could raise the estimated $150m to develop Centennial Park. To take control of NFR’s land, the City must win the first threshold in court, which is that the taking is for a public purpose.

The City must pay an initial payment to NFR based on the city’s appraisal of Parcel 0. Restaino said he might borrow against future federal block grant money, diverting about 45% of federal block grant funds used for street repairs, demolitions, social services, not-for-profits, and other community initiatives – for the next 20 years.

The courts may determine that Parcel 0 is worth $15 – $20m. A past eminent domain proceeding by New York State against NFR dragged on for over seven years, establishing the initial payment of NFR land across the street from Parcel 0 at about $1m per acre – in 2010 dollars, with an additional undisclosed second payment estimated at $5-10m.

Businessman Jim Szwedo of the Niagara Street Business Association came out with a proposal. He suggested Mayor Restaino develop the events center on City/state-owned land on Third and Niagara St and the park on 11 acres of land NFR owns two blocks away from Parcel 0. Then the City would also benefit from some 550 jobs the data center would create.

Szwedo further explained that City/state-owned land on Third, if used for the events center, won’t require diverting 20 years of block grant money to buy it. The mayor would have immediate site control, which he says he needs to pursue funding without protracted and expensive litigation. And the local businesses would benefit because that site is closer to hotels, attractions, restaurants, and retail stores in the tourist district.

This proposal would save millions more in legal fees and interest on the block grant loan. 

Mayor Restaino replied, “there was an analysis conducted, and this parcel was the only one that would fit the project in order to continue to engage with the Seneca Nation.”

The Seneca Nation of Indians recently received $4.4 billion as part of a settlement agreement with the State of New York, following a long-standing dispute over casino revenue. The funds provide a significant windfall for the Nation. However, there is also a risk of mismanagement or disagreements over how the money should be spent. The Seneca Nation has not yet released a formal plan for the funds.

It appears Mayor Restaino may have already earmarked $150 million of the Seneca Nation’s money for his own pet projects. What is Mayor Restaino’s deal with the Seneca Indians?

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About the author

Richard Luthmann

Richard Luthmann is a writer, commentator, satirist, and investigative journalist with degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami. Once a fixture in New York City and State politics, Luthmann is a recovering attorney who lives in Southwest Florida and a proud member of the National Writers Union. 

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