The City of Niagara Falls is set to receive a lump sum of $89 million after the settlement of a long-standing dispute between New York state and the Seneca Nation over gambling revenues.
The first order of business for the city is to pay back over $22 million borrowed from its general fund that’s been depleted over the past several years while the state and Senecas were at odds.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster says their agenda includes allocating monies to the city school district, local hospital, airport, and the Niagara Falls tourism and convention center. He says another goal is to address the city’s reputation as the ‘pothole capital of the world’ and restore spending on infrastructure.
“One of the very first actions that I am going to ask council to implement is to allow us to make transfers in order to spend additional moneys this paving year for additional streets to be added to get us back basically back to the same level of paving that we were doing prior,” says Dyster.
Even though the city is in significant amount of debt and has been cited in State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s list of most fiscally stressed cities, Dyster says they don’t plan on paying off all of their debt with the Seneca revenue. He says the influx of funds will allow them to pay cash for some future projects instead of borrowing money from the state.
“Just like in your household finances you might be tempted to pay off a student loan just so you can say that you paid it off, but it doesn’t make sense to pay off a student loan at a low rate of interest and then the next week find that you put something on a credit card at a high rate of interest,” says Dyster.
The mayor adds that the funding will help improve the cities rating with the comptroller’s office. He says over time the city plans to rebrand itself, not only to boost tourism, but to entice people to live and work in the Falls.
“You can buy a beautiful three story Victorian here for under $100-thousand. How many places in the country can you do that?” says Dyster.
The mayor says the funds will also be used to focus on job creation.
“One of the biggest industrial projects anywhere in northeast that I know of is a $445-million green industrial project at ‘Green Pack’ here in Niagara Falls. It’s a consortium of companies that are building; I guess you can say a high-tech paper mill. This creates a jobs base outside of the tourism industry.”
Dyster made it clear that the Falls will never match the scale of the Canadian side, but will offer tourists a more eco-friendly experience, utilizing lots of the green space.
He says Niagara Falls is in the process of researching what other year-round attractions to bring to the area for people in addition to rock climbing and a museum on the Underground Railroad.
“[Niagara Falls] is never going to be the same. You can’t turn back the hands of the clock, you can’t turn back history, but with some vision, imagination and discipline, we can create a future that is brighter than in the past. We assure that when our grandchildren have their own grandchildren they’re going to be sitting around talking about the situation that we create in the next few years and they’re going to be saying wasn’t that a great time for Niagara Falls,” he says.