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Familiar story at Summit mall in Wheatfield

   The Buffalo News Niagara Staff is following a developing story today in Wheatfield.

   The Summit mall will close June 6 after ownership declared bankruptcy, officials announced today.

   Read the full story here.

Reactions to caboose ice cream shop run hot and cold

   Richard Hastings and his son, Alan, thought it would be fun to add an ice cream stand to their popular Silo restaurant along the Lewiston waterfront, and put the new stand in a caboose.

   Some of the neighbors hate the idea.

The major complaints are that the caboose will block the public view of the Niagara river and cause more traffic. News Niagara Reporter Nancy A. Fischer has reported in two stories this week, including one published today.

   Those who favor the move say it will lift the village economy while it satisfies the appetite.

The Lewiston Village Board must ultimately decide, since father and son lease the the property where the Silo stands and the ice cream shop would sit.

The 35-foot-long "wooden-antique caboose" is smaller than a regular-sized train caboose, Richard Hastings said. To find out more, see the story in today's Buffalo News Niagara & Region section.

Laurie Finn, of North Water Street, told the Village Board last Monday, "You put up a wall as you get to Center and Water and eliminate the view of the majestic river. I implore you not to do this."

   Lowell Colvin, of First Street, called the view "sacred."

   But the Hastings family and some other neighbors argue that the caboose can be added tastefully, and help recall the history of the old Great Gorge Railway by serving, in part as a museum.

   What do you think?

-- Nancy A. Fischer

Power Authority is failing, leading politicians say

   Things just keep piling up for the New York Power Authority.

   First, the authority allows the state to "sweep" nearly $550 million of its funds for use to patch up holes in this year's state operating budget.

   Next, it's confronted and criticized a for a proposed rate hike, which it later agrees to suspend.

   Finally, it's revealed this week the authority and a start-up steel company targeting a site in Orleans County failed to come to a deal on an allocation of low-cost power for the second time.

   (Not to mention the German chemical company that wanted to come to Niagara Falls, and Google Inc. which was looking in Orleans County, too; both of whom also wanted power but decided to look elsewhere, at least in part due to the lack of cheap hydropower offered.)

   Enter U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins, who on Thursday called for a major shake-up at the authority. Read the story here.

   Schumer wants a restructuring; Higgins said he thinks the authority should be disbanded.

   Judging by some of the e-mails I received Thursday after The Buffalo News published a front-page story on this issue, I'm guessing some people might agree with the federal representatives. Many readers have already chimed in on a previous post at the Niagara Views blog. Click here to check out their comments.

   And here's a great, in-depth look at the hydropower issue by my colleague James Heaney.

   --Aaron Besecker

Steel company looks to WNY, leaves when it can't get enough electricity

   Wacker Chemie. Google. And now Development Steel Co.

   All three companies were looking to locate in either Orleans or Niagara counties, but left, at least in part, because they were unable to get an allocation of low-cost electricity they wanted from the New York Power Authority.

   Read about it here.

   State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, issued a press release this morning about the matter in which he heavily criticized the authority.

   The release included a statement, which read, in part, "These major corporations, all of which have been trying to set up operations in Western New York, invest hundreds of millions of dollars and create jobs, have been forced to look elsewhere in the country for one reason -- the New York Power Authority."

   While power was among the reasons Wacker Chemie didn't come to Niagara Falls, this situation again draws the Power Authority into a fire of criticism from those who believe it doesn't do enough for Western New York, which hosts one of the country's biggest hydropower plants.

   --Aaron Besecker

If Indians are coming to the Falls in waves, is more marketing needed?

   There is no doubt in the eyes of those on the ground in Niagara Falls that the famous falls have become a popular attraction for travelers from India.

   A story in today's Buffalo News takes a look at how the spending power and travel patterns of visitors from India have changed in recent years.

   But what is in question is whether a publicly funded agency, Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., should spend money to send its staff to India twice in about a year to promote Niagara Falls USA.

   Niagara Falls restaurateur Paramjit Singh is from India and has taken notice of the influx of travelers from his homeland. He owns three restaurants, Punjabi Hut, the Twist of the Mist and Misty Dog on Niagara Street, and said he sees a steady stream of Indian visitors at his restaurants.

   Singh would like to see those public dollars spent on cleaning up downtown Niagara Falls rather than marketing the region directly to India.

   One of the problems, says Niagara Falls Councilman Sam Fruscione, is that NTCC has kept the details of its annual budget a secret and won't release receipts for its travel.

   The countywide tourism marketing and promotion agency is funded primarily through hotel occupancy taxes and local casino revenue.

   In an attempt to be more transparent -- and under pressure from Niagara Falls leaders -- NTCC president and chief executive John Percy sent the city a copy of its two-page, 2009 budget earlier this month.

   Percy contends a five-day promotional trip he and another staff member took to India last month was necessary to encourage India-based tour operators to offer packages with longer stays in Niagara Falls.

   Fruscione, who is running for re-election and has made NTCC spending a campaign issue, wants more information about NTCC's travel and its annual budget.

   How would you like to see Niagara Falls marketed?

- Denise Jewell Gee

A new attraction for downtown Niagara Falls

   A proposed new attraction for downtown Niagara Falls took another step forward Tuesday.

   Plans for a year-round snow park -- complete with a 65-foot tubing hill and synthetic ice rink -- have been granted tax breaks by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

   The proposal comes from Snow Park LLC, owned by entrepreneur Joseph Anderson, who runs the  Smokin' Joes gas stations and other area businesses.

   The site of the proposed snow park is at Main and First streets in downtown Niagara Falls.

   Niagara Falls, home to a natural wonder, is criticized for not having enough attractions to keep tourists here for longer stays.

   Do you think this will help? How do you feel about Anderson's idea?

   --Aaron Besecker

As expected, the county files lawsuit over casino revenue split

Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and State Sen. Antoine Thompson included language in the recently passed state budget that strips away a small slice of Seneca Niagara casino slots revenue from Niagara County and adds to the bounty of the City of Niagara Falls.

That hasn't set well with the County Legislature, which overwhelmingly passed a resolution at its Tuesday night meeting to file a lawsuit seeking not only to overturn the budget resolution but also to take a greater share of revenue away from New York state.

Who can blame county lawmakers? The county's slots share so far -- $976,892 -- is less than 2 percent of the $50 million of slots revenue that has flowed to the local community since the casino opened. That accounts for one-quarter of the slots revenue.

The state, meanwhile, gets the other three-quarters; about $150 million since the casino opened New Year's Eve 2002.

Falls and county politicians both say they need the small percentage the county has received. County officials say payments they have made to fund festivals and help local organizations -- sometimes in amounts as small as $1,000 -- go a long way for small groups. City officials say that money could become a dedicated revenue source for fixing streets in Niagara Falls that are riddled with potholes, a problem even Gov. David A. Paterson said is a priority when he was in Niagara Falls last month.

Both say they'd like to take a greater share of slots money from the state's share, too.

It ought to be interesting to see how this battle ends.

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