Frank Report looks into a case of eminent domain – the power of government to condemn private property for public purposes through a forced sale, with the sale price determined through a trial with a judge and jury.
A Niagara Falls case is shaping up to be an extraordinary case. Unlike most eminent domain cases, a billionaire property owner argues his company has a higher and better use for its land than the City’s “speculative and unfunded” plan.
A battle is heating up in Niagara Falls, NY. It is a fight over property rights, the government’s use of eminent domain to force the sale of private property, and the highest and best use for a property that is a gateway location for both the City and for a private development company with substantial holdings, which owns the contested property.
The company is Niagara Falls Redevelopment LLC, [NFR] owned by Howard Milstien, billionaire banker, businessman, developer, and philanthropist.
NFR is run locally by popular businessman and longtime resident of Niagara County, Roger Trevino.
The City and NFR have widely different plans for a 12-acre parcel in downtown Niagara Falls, owned by NFR.
NFR refers to the 12 acres as “Parcel 0,” It is not only Ground 0 for the fight but also Ground 0 for the long-term development plans NFR says it has for its 142 acres of land holdings.
The red boundary marks NFR’s 142 acres. Within the 142 acres is Parcel 0, the 12 acres at the north center of NFR’s holdings.
The fight may have tremendous implications for the political fate of the current mayor, Robert Restaino, who is running for reelection this year.
He has spearheaded the aggressive plan to take NFR’s land. He is now in a legal fight with a company with big plans [and big bucks] for Parcel 0 and cannot afford to back down.
To lose that property for NFR means placing a monkey wrench in their future. NFR will fight in court for years to come unless it is settled. They have to.
On the other hand, Mayor Restaino is no shrinking violet. He has declared he will take the property, whatever the cost. And use it to develop the property as he plans it.
The battle is over the fate of the property, and the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division will decide it through the eminent domain process.
Ironically, these proceedings take years, and the possibility exists that Mayor Restaino, even if he wins reelection this year, may not be mayor when this battle comes to a final resolution.
The cost of taxpayer dollars, win or lose, will be enormous, and the City will pay for it regardless of who the mayor is.
If Restaino is right, his plan will be transformative for the City, and taxpayers will recoup the investment Restaino is committing them to pay.
Rendering of the events center.
The mayor wants the 12-acre Parcel 0 to develop “Centennial Park,” which he plans as an indoor arena, an outdoor amphitheater, a water feature/ice skating rink, a multilevel surface parking deck with a rooftop for movies and a beer garden, and walls used for climbing.
The remaining three or four acres would be used as parkland.
The City does not have the estimated $150 million needed to develop the property or the $12-$20 million they will likely pay NFR if they successfully acquire Parcel 0 through the eminent domain process.
The mayor plans to borrow some of the purchase price – which, in eminent domain proceedings, the court decides.
He says he has to get control of Parcel 0 to get funding for the Centennial project.
NFR Plans Data Center
NFR wants to develop Parcel 0 for a $1.5 billion technology and data center. They plan to call it the Niagara Digital Campus.
The plans call for 600,000 square feet of space. The company projects will create 550 state-of-the-art data and IT jobs for area residents, and provide an estimated $250 million annually in economic benefits to the City.
The company says the development will also bring new infrastructure for high-speed broadband access for Niagara Falls.
Urbacon builds and operates high tech data centers, and has been in business since 1984.
NFR will partner with Urbacon, a Canadian developer of high-tech data centers. The project will cost taxpayers nothing and add to city, county, and school tax revenues.
Urbacon has built and operated facilities similar to what NFR and Urbacon are proposing in Toronto, Richmond Hill, and Montreal.
Once the mayor pulled the trigger on eminent domain, NFR filed a petition with the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, seeking to halt the City’s plan to force the sale of their land.
NFR says the City’s plan to take its land is illegal and serves no public purpose. They also pointed out as an absurdity the mayor’s proceeding to take property from a developer without having the funds allocated even to pay for the land.
To cure this deficiency, Mayor Restaino proposed, and the council authorized, borrowing against 20 years of future federal block grant funds at 7.5% interest to pay for the land’s initial ‘down payment’ if the state court authorizes the taking.
Critics, including residents who spoke at public hearings, complained that the City uses block grant funds for needed street repairs, demolitions of neighborhood blight, social services, to support not-for-profits, and other community-based initiatives.
In a cash-strapped and impoverished city, diverting a significant portion of limited federal funds that support low-income neighborhoods for the next 20 years to fight a billionaire for the right to buy, for top dollar, land for an events center, which the City has no money to build, might be called poor judgment.
Will this be Restaino’s Folly or Gifted Foresight?
The mayor disputed this with his belief that if they borrow from federal neighborhood funds to get the land, he will get the financing to build the events center.
He says he has talked with various unnamed federal and state officials, who think his chances of securing financing are good if he acquires the land.
If the City builds the events center, the mayor said, the revenue generated from events will more than make up for the revenue diverted from the neighborhoods to buy the land from block grant money.
Mayor Restaino says Centennial Park will be transformative for the City, extending the tourist season and bringing in money from concerts and sporting events, where people will spend money at various businesses in the City.
The biggest challenge is that by the time this legal battle is resolved, the people he spoke with at various agencies may no longer be there, and in fact, the mayor may not be in office himself.
A new mayor may or may not want or be able to proceed with an expensive project that, though it promises well, may be more or less an impossible dream.
In our next post, we will delve into the details of the lawsuit and look at claims made by both sides to determine their likelihood of coming to fruition,
Two competing projects for the same parcel, Parcel 0.
In the future, what will people see when they approach Parcel 0?
In our next post, we will examine the genesis of the dispute.
Social amenities are also good for urban dwellers, and parkland is always welcome in an urban sprawl. Data centres may create jobs and growth, but they also have hidden costs to the environment directly and indirectly, with much of the profit lining the pockets of billionaire investors posing as philanthropists.
Is there more to the story?
The mayor’s argument doesn’t make logical sense. A mayor wants jobs and investment not an urban renewal project, pipe dream.
Something is not right…..
Someone we all know has some skin in the game—and I ain’t talk’n about foreskin.
No answer from the answer man?
Cat got his tongue or is busy eaten a poor puss.
Only those who already say words which should be spoken before all others should manage Parcel 0.
Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address:
“… Today we have gathered. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one.
We are all thankful to our mother, the earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms—waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of water. Now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to the all the fish in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So we turn now to the fish and send them our greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn toward the vast fields of plant life. As far as the eye can see, the plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together we give thanks and look forward to seeing plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.
With one mind we turn to honor and thank all the food plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time the grains, vegetables, beans, and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things too draw strength from them. We gather all the plant foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn to all the medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. We are happy there are still among us those who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind we send greetings and thanks to the medicines and to the keepers of the medicines. Now our minds are one.
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the animals in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here, and we hope that it will always be so. Now our minds are one.
We now turn our thoughts to the trees. The earth has many families of trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty, and other useful things. Many people of the world use a tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind we greet and thank the tree life. Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together as one and thank all the birds who fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the birds, from the smallest to the largest, we send our joyful greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.
We are all thankful to the powers we know as the four winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind we send our greetings and thanks to the four winds. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the thunder beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep evil underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our grandfathers, the thunderers. Now our minds are one.
We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest brother, the sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind we send greetings and thanks to our brother, the sun. Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest grandmother, the moon, who lights the night sky. She is the leader of women all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the moon who watches over the arrival of children on earth. With one mind we send greetings and thanks to our grandmother, the moon. Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to the stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one we send greetings and thanks to the stars. Now our minds are one.
We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on earth. For all the love around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our best words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one.
We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one. …”
Imo, it would be wonderful to have the jobs created by his vision. But taking someone else’s property by using funds needed for the impoverished Niagara area is further harmful.
Uhhh. There isn’t any other location in the entire city that could be used for the events center? Why the lack of land if the city is so poor?
There are undoubtedly other locations.
The obvious question on everyone’s mind is……
Do you know any of the players?
“I wonder if Frank is a ‘familiar’ of one of the hornswoggling scoundrels in our latest allegory tale “Scum vs Scumbag.” “
Unscrupulous politicians or unsavory businessmen perhaps? Manure or feces which applies and to whom.
Side Note Reality:
Business does not exist to do good…
….But good can come out of business.
Nothing in your life would exist without business….
…No healthcare, no electricity, no grocery stores or farming equipment, or the loom, FrankReport, sneakers, watches, etc.
I know all the players. I own the Niagara Falls Reporter and covered all of them for years.
Stop [redacted] Frank’s [redated]! That’s my job.