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Urban casinos – parting thoughts

I hope the two-day series on urban casinos in Western New York, which was published Sunday and today in The Buffalo News, will open a meaningful, more public dialogue over the future of both the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino and the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.

Here are a couple of other things I thought worth sharing:

* As the Seneca Nation of Indians prepares to expand its casino in Buffalo, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster sees it as good thing that the state limited the sovereign land it set aside in the Queen City to nine acres, instead of the 50-acre plot the Senecas have in the Falls. They won’t be able to build as much on it, he said. Otherwise, Dyster sees fewer advantages to having a casino in Buffalo than in his city.

Dyster points out that more than 6 million visitors come to his city every year, most of them during the summer tourist season.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. gushed last month that it anticipated about 360,000 visitors on the Buffalo waterfront this year.

Dyster considers the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel a "resort casino," where money flows in from all over the world. He wonders if a larger casino proposed for Buffalo might be more of a "blue collar" one, where money from the local community is recirculated and, as Niagara University associate professor Steven H. Siegel warns, the existing hospitality industry could suffer.

"I think it's something you've got to think about," Dyster said. "If I were Chefs or the Swannie House or McCarthy's, I would be concerned about what ends up getting built on the casino property."

Here's the other thing he sees nearly 10 years into the introduction of Native American gambling in the Falls: the city has grown increasingly accustomed to it, the Senecas recently have tried more earnestly to connect to their surroundings, and government and business leaders have begun to devise more plans to capitalize on it.

City business went through a crisis of self-confidence in the early years of the casino, and several bars and restaurants closed, Dyster said.

"Now," he said, "I think people are feeling maybe a little bit more relaxed about what type of competition the casino does or doesn't present. I don't think the Como Restaurant is concerned the casino is going to make a better meatball."

There's a place for a casino and a variety of other attractions in a city visited by millions of tourists each year, said John Percy, head of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., Niagara County’s lead tourism agency.

"I think the casino adds an enhancement to our product, but it can't be the end-all," he said. "This [Seneca Niagara] casino is in an international tourist destination, so it's going to have a totally different draw than a casino in Buffalo in the future, but it also depends on how [the Senecas] market, position and brand that casino."

* During my reporting for this story, I exchanged emails with Patrick T. Rayome, a bufalonews.com reader from Lexington, Ky. Here’s how our exchange went:

Patrick:

Can someone, anyone, please tell me where all the tourist money from Niagara Falls is going to? Why is the New York State side of Niagara Falls dirty, debilitated and just nasty? Who is really profiteering from all this money? Why is the Canadian side of Niagara Falls cleaner, modern and offers more things to do for the entire family? What is keeping Niagara and/or New York from reinvesting the money it receives back into promotion and modernization the American Side of the Falls?

I am originally from Massena, NY, but have been living in Lexington, KY for the past 20 years. I have been to both sides of the Falls several times in the past 42 years. During that time: Canada obviously has a better handle on this. My visits and photo's clearly indicate the progression, modernization and efforts Canada has put pouring their dollars back into their side of this tourist attraction. Even Google has: the top hotels, top restaurants, top attractions etc. ...are all found on the Canadian side. [One of the] Visitor's Center[s] is a prime example of what is happening on the NY State side. It is unfinished, dirty and the letters on the outside of the building are falling off. I wish I were the only one who noticed this...but time after time other tourists were overheard saying what a 'dump' the American side is. Many others claimed this was the last time they would be staying (hotel), eating or spending their money on the American side, and that their next visit would be exclusively to the Canadian Side...taking all their money over there!

All that money and comparatively speaking nothing to show. Is there a comprehensive breakdown on where all the money collected from tourists goes? Again who is profiteering and what are they using that money for?

Me:

The short answer is that Ontario committed to the tourism industry as a main economic driver about 40 years ago, developed a plan and has stuck to it. The provincial government continues to take a significant amount of money spent on tourism in the Falls and plow it back into city tourism.

The New York side focused on heavy industry decades ago, particularly the chemical and power intensive trades. Worse, the state government in Albany has drained much of the money that comes from Niagara power, the Seneca Niagara Casino and Niagara Falls State Park out of Niagara Falls and returned a far lower percentage to city tourism than the Canadians.

Then, of course, there's the view. The Canadians have about 20 hotels with a straight-on look of the American and Horseshoe falls. The U.S. side will never be able to build even one.

Patrick:

I shouldn't care but do...Since my first visit in 1969 (even with no water over Niagara Falls) this has been a special place for myself to vacation.  I have also sent alot of people from right here in Kentucky to Niagara Falls as a vacation pick. Many will be obtaining their Passports and going to Canada next time - taking the much needed tourism dollars with them. Decline in Tourism to the American Side will exponentially kill Niagara Falls New York and turn it into a port of entry only into Canada.

I think the people of Niagara Falls in particular need better State Representation in New York at Albany and in Washington D.C. to force more of those dollars back into Niagara Falls (the city) and in the development of the American side of the Park.

I fully understand the view issue. But development in activities for family entertainment - such as an indoor water park (like in Canada) ...etc. - go beyond the view and venture into creativity; giving families (and children) things to do. The Aquarium and Discovery Center are outdated and antiquated for too many years.

Come on! Even in Kentucky they have a modern, successful Aquarium at Newport KY; a Creation Museum in northern KY, and are in the process of constructing a multi million dollar Noah's Ark Park. Creativity and commitment is the true view.

--News Niagara Editor Scott Scanlon

Review chat with Specht about Sunday cover story on Falls fire pay

News Staff Reporter Charlie Specht is discussing his Sunday cover story -- In Falls Fire Dept., underlings sometimes earn more than chief -- at 11 a.m. today.

A waterfront park in Niagara Falls

   NIAGARA FALLS -- Officials and residents gathered just past the city's southern border today to celebrate the groundbreaking of LaSalle Waterfront Park.  IMAG0122

   Actually, construction had already begun on the land, as construction workers were busy cutting trees and grinding up the trunks an hour before the press conference. 

   In short, city officials hope the park will include, by December:

   --A cantilever deck for residents to walk above the water's edge

   --A floating dock that residents can use to fish

   --Grassy picnic areas

   --A recreation area with a playground

Here's the master plan for the park, which had been owned by the city and undeveloped for two decades:

LASALLE MASTERPLAN RENDERING

   I got to the site early to see what information I could gather from the workers. Here's what the guys from Scott Lawn Yard will be looking at when they put the plan in place and build each aspect of the park:

  The floating dock area:

   IMAG0104
                                  
The cantilever deck:

IMAG0109

The gazebo:

IMAG0112
 

 Here's some background about the park's history, and here's my story with all the details from Monday's announcement.

   -News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht 

Will Niagara Falls become a winter wonderland?

   In March, Ellicottville native and Idaho developer Mark Rivers revealed his plans to make downtown Niagara Falls a winter tourism haven, complete with a strip of speciality international and regional vendors.

    Rivers has been busy securing vendors and marketing the festival, but not without questions from City Council Chairman Sam Fruscione.   LOCAL_WEATHER_1343576

    Last week, Rivers revealed more specific plans for the market, including:

    --A food and wine festival sponsored by Wegmans from Dec. 16-18 that would include tastings, workshops, cooking demonstrations and celebrity chef appearances.

    --What is being billed as Western New York's largest Christmas tree, with a Rockefeller Center-style lighting ceremony to be broadcast on local television.

    --WNY's largest holiday ice rink, which would feature two events with former Buffalo Sabres Gilbert Perreault and Michael Peca and public ice skating.

    --A Winter Wonderland in Niagara Falls State Park, complete with horse-drawn sleigh rides, show shoeing, cross-country skiing, an ice sculpture competition and a snowman contest.

    --A Santa's Workshop for children to meet and take photos with Santa Claus.

    Those plans are in addition to a concert series which would include the Canadian Tenors, Aaron Neville, Elisabeth Von Trapp and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. 

    Rivers was criticized after for providing an initial report that was two pages long and devoid of many details. This time, he's provided a longer report with pictures, descriptions and some additional sponsors. 

    You can read that full report here, and can listen to Rivers' comments in today's Buffalo News here

     What do you think about the proposed Niagara Holiday Market? Will it be a success or will it flop like so many other Niagara Falls development plans?

    -News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht

    E-mail me at cspecht@buffnews.com, call me at 849-4046 or follow me on Twitter. For coverage of government, politics, development and community life in the Falls, click here.