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Attracting tourists to Buffalo and Niagara Falls

    I spoke this week with Eddie Friel, an "expert-in-residence" at Niagara University's College of Hospitality & Tourism Management. A native of Northern Ireland, Friel came to the U.S. five years ago after helping transform Glasgow, Scotland, from a fading shipbuilding capital to a tourism hotbed.

   The result? More than 66,000 tourism jobs created since 1983, Friel said, and an industry that employs twice as many tourism workers as it once did shipbuilders.

   When he settled in Western New York, Friel was amazed at Buffalo's architecture and Niagara Falls' beauty. But he said both cities can do much more to showcase their treasures. Below (and in the video above) are some comments about Friel's thoughts on Buffalo.

   Friel on Buffalo's changing image:  "Over the past five years, I have noticed a gradual building of self-confidence. And this [National Trust for Historic Preservation] Conference acted as a catalyst to bring everyone together, to allow the community in Buffalo to recognize, actually, we do have a magnificent city. It is significant in architectural terms, nationally and internationally, and that is something that we need to celebrate. And the community in Buffalo responded mangificently to it. That didnt happen five years ago, so there is a change."

   Friel on where Buffalo should be in five years: "Buffalo needs to be a major urban destination, as one of top 10 cities in the U.S. for creative industries, for innovation and design. Cities are going to become much more important places to live work and play, and we need to create livable cities and livable communities. That's Buffalo's challenge, and it's ideally placed to do so, because it has so much available within the city requiring development."

   For Friel's thoughts on what the Niagara Falls needs to do to keep the 8 million tourists who visit each year -- and to learn about President Obama's new tourism plan -- read Sunday's Niagara Weekend story in The Buffalo News.

   - News Staff Reporter Charlie Specht

Live blog of Niagara Falls City Council meeting tonight

Join me tonight for a live blog of the City Council work session at 4 p.m. and regular meeting at 7 p.m.

Here's the meeting agenda and the resolutions the council will be voting on. For a full preview of the issues to be discussed at the meeting, click here.



-News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht (                   

Preview of Jan. 23 Falls City Council meeting

    NIAGARA FALLS -- The City Council will hold its regular meeting Monday, and we'll be right here on the Niagara Views blog with our second live chat. Feel free to chime in with your questions and comments as I give live meeting updates.

    If you can't wait until Monday, you can get a peek at the meeting agenda here, or read the council resolutions here

    The meeting will include updates from Mayor Paul A. Dyster's administration on:

    --The Lewiston Road reconstruction project, which has been plagued by delays and disputes between contractor Dave Pfeiffer and the city. Pfeiffer has said he found alarming levels of radioactive material beneath the road, while city and state Department of Environmental Conservation officials say the levels are not a threat to the public. Paving is expected to start again this spring.  Hope+VI+tenants

    --The Center Court housing development (right), which was unveiled in 2010 despite the absence of street lights. At the Dec. 13 council meeting, City Engineer Jeffrey Skurka said he was trying to fix the problem "as best as I can, as fast as I can." 

      Daria Sterner of the Niagara Falls Blues Festival and Karl Bauer of the Western New York Blues Society will make a presentation about the blues festival and its budget. In December, City Council Chairman Sam Fruscione announced the city would gradually decrease its funding for the festival. 

      To find out more about these issues, and the city's response to the SPCA of Niagara controversy, join me right here on Monday. The work session begins at 4 p.m. and the regular meeting starts at 7 p.m., with a break in between.

    -News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht (


Falls searching for new fire chief, department heads

   NIAGARA FALLS -- Jobs are hard to come by these days, but if you have experience in public safety, human resources or development, you may be in luck.

   The city is accepting applications for fire chief, HR director and community development director positions, according to City Administrator Donna Owens.  

   The department head positions were recently vacated with the retirements of Robert Antonucci (development) and Joyce Mardon-Serianni (HR), but the city has been without a fire chief since Roger Melchior was fired in February. 


   Mayor Paul A. Dyster has pointed to political instability as a reason for the fire chief vacancy. Since the chief serves at the pleasure of the mayor, Dyster said it was difficult to attract candidates before he won re-election in November. If he had lost, another mayor could have come in and appointed his own chief.

   Another issue we documented in an investigative story was the fire chief's $83,900 salary, which in some cases was up to $60,000 lower than what battalion chiefs and other underlings were making. The disparity was a function of overtime and other benefits the chief isn't eligible for.

   City Controller Maria C. Brown said Monday that despite the absence of a chief, the fire department has kept overtime costs "very reasonable." 

   The city has received two applications for the fire chief position, Owens said, and would like to fill all three spots "as expeditiously as possible."

   Applications will be accepted for all three positions until Jan. 26, she said. Owens can be contacted at, and job qualifications and submission information is posted here.

   -News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht

Live blog of Niagara Falls City Council meeting tonight

Join me tonight for a live blog of the City Council work session at 4 p.m. and regular meeting at 7 p.m.

Here's the meeting agenda, as well as the supporting resolutions the council will be voting on. The 4 p.m. work session will involve administrative updates regarding the fire chief search and two recently retired department heads.  



-News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht

FBI agents back in Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS -- Mayor Paul A. Dyster was in Albany on Wednesday for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State speech.

But as he was finding out specifics about the governor's pledge to offer $1 billion to companies who build in the Buffalo area, a familiar scene was taking place back home:

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for the second time in two-and-a-half years, were showing up at Niagara Falls City Hall.


Wednesday's appearance centers around tax records from the One Niagara building, which used to house the offices of the Occidental Chemical Co. and has been known by locals for years as the "flashcube."

The building has been a source of controversy for years, especially after plans for an underground aquarium stalled, leaving a large hole in front of the property. The latest issue centers around a tax dispute with the city -- first by Buffalo developer Frank Parlato, who owned the building until 2010, and now by Lewiston attorney Paul A. Grenga and his ownership group.

The city claims Grenga and his group owe $1.7 million in property taxes, interest and penalties assessed by the city, its school district and Niagara County. Grenga claims the building was unfairly assessed.

Dyster speculated the investigation had something to do with the unpaid back taxes, while One Niagara spokesman Tony Farina said the FBI's probe was "totally unrelated" to the building's current owners. He confirmed that FBI and IRS agents interviewed the current owners Wednesday.

  AgentsWhen agents showed up to deliver a grand jury subpoena for the tax records at City Hall, they probably didn't have a hard time finding the place. Agents have investigated officials there for years, most recently (and pictured left) in a July 2009 raid that led to felony charges against Falls plumber John J. Gross Jr. 

The next year, a different federal investigation landed former Mayor Vince Anello in jail. He was recently released from federal prison. 

Details about the latest FBI investigation were scarce Wednesday night, but Dyster said federal agents requested tax payment records from One Niagara dating back to 2004. 

"We're happy to comply, and should be able to do so swiftly," Dyster said.

--News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht