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Niagara Falls is for lovers again

Niagara Falls is in vogue again for honeymooners.

At least according to CNN.

The Cable News Network posted a story on its Web site today focused on young couples who have honeymooned in Niagara Falls.

Once considered a "cliché," Niagara Falls has been rediscovered by romantic couples, the story says. The trend was highlighted last year when fictional couple Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly of NBC's "The Office" tied the knot in the Falls in an hour-long special.

Rebecca Dolgin, executive editor of theknot.com, told CNN that Niagara Falls is part of a recent trend of retro honeymoons to places like Palm Springs, Calif., and the Poconos in Pennsylvania.

The Web site lists Niagara Falls among the top 19 honeymoon destinations in the United States and Canada.

"It's sort of kitschy and it's fun, and it's for couples who maybe don't take it too seriously," Dolgin told CNN. "I don't think anyone is going to come back from Niagara being disappointed. You know when you go there what you're getting into; it's the same kind of thing with Las Vegas."

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Proposal to share between NT and Falls

At last night's North Tonawanda Common Council meeting, a city resident asked about the proposal to share Paul J. Drof, head of the city's water and wastewater superintendent, with the Niagara Falls Water Board.

In the discussion (click below for full audio), Christiana Street resident Walt Yaro asks the questions, as part of the public comment portion near the end of the meeting. City Attorney Shawn P. Nickerson answers the question about the Walmart lawsuit status. What follows is an exchange between Yaro and Mayor Robert G. Ortt about the proposal.

In his comments, Ortt says Drof approached the city about the matter and supports the idea.

Listen to the entire discussion here:

Mayor, resident talk about shared services during Council meeting (3:47)

--Aaron Besecker

Falls Council exerts power with budget cuts

The budget ax is one of the sharpest tools the Niagara Falls City Council has to show its displeasure. And it typically wields it.

Recent years have seen the otherwise banal budget season heat up when it comes to mayoral appointees.

This year, the pressure is on City Administrator Donna D. Owens and Economic Development Director Peter F. Kay. The Council voted last month to cut Owens' salary and to eliminate Kay's job completely.

Dyster then vetoed those decisions. A six-page letter from Dyster to the City Council explaining his vetoes is posted on the city's Web site.

Here's a run down of other city jobs targeted in recent years:

2008: Council voted to eliminate job of Senior Planner Thomas DeSantis. Dyster vetoed the decision. The job was saved.

2006: Council voted to eliminate several jobs, including youth associate director, city forester and a second secretary for the mayor. The Council also reduced the salary of then-Corporation Counsel Damon DeCastro. Mayor Vince V. Anello vetoed the cuts, but the Council overrode the vetoes. The budget cuts remained in place.

2005: Council voted to eliminate nearly a dozen of Anello's appointees, including Risk Manager Renae Kimble and Grants Writer Paul Colangelo. The Council overrode Anello's vetoes of the job cuts.

2004: Council nixed proposed salary increases for then-City Administrator Daniel Bristol and then-Fire Chief Richard L. Horn.

And the list goes on.

The 2009 Council will have its final say today. A special Council meeting is scheduled for 3:45 p.m. in City Hall to finalize the budget and to act on Dyster's vetoes. Four votes are needed to override a mayoral veto.

 -- Denise Jewell Gee

Draft pact heats up plan for Rainbow mall

It once drew Canadians to browse in stores like Burlington Coat Factory, Esprit and Cavages Records.

Today, the Rainbow Centre mall is locked to the public with a leaking roof and empty stores. But officials hope it could soon bustle with students.

A plan to locate Niagara County Community College's hospitality, tourism and culinary programs in about a third of the mall has been moving forward since NCCC President James P. Klyczek announced in August that the college was looking at the Rainbow Centre as a possible location.

Many questions remain. How much will it cost to entice mall developer David Cordish of Baltimore-based Cordish Co. to give up a portion of the long-term lease his company holds on the city-owned mall? Where will the money come from to pay for renovation work needed on the mall's parking ramp and skylights?

The first view of the legal structure by which the project would move forward emerged Wednesday when a draft memorandum of understanding was made public. A story in today's Niagara & Region section describes the proposed agreement.

View a copy of the draft memorandum here.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Falls to sell off 220 parcels

Dozens of properties will go on sale in Niagara Falls next week.

Many will go dirt cheap.

The City of Niagara Falls will hold a tax foreclosure auction at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Quality Inn Niagara, 7708 Niagara Falls Blvd.

More than 200 properties are slated to be sold. Vacant lots, boarded up houses and a few
former businesses throughout the city are on the list.

One of the more interesting properties is the former Press Box restaurant at 324 Niagara St. The downtown storefront served up lunch to politicians and reporters for years before closing in 2004.

To view a catalog of properties for sale, including photographs, maps and descriptions, visit Auctions International and scroll to the bottom of the page.

- Denise Jewell Gee

Power Coalition still going

Hey -- remember that group of governments and school districts in Niagara County that signed a 50-year deal with the New York Power Authority? In exchange for supporting a new federal operating license for the Niagara Power Project, they'll share $8 million annually through 2057?

Well, the Niagara Power Coalition is still around. In fact, members are meeting next Thursday, and its meetings are open to the public.

Here's the meeting agenda.

-- Aaron Besecker

Chimpanzees on TV

In case you missed two chimps from The Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday night, you still have a chance.

An episode of "Explorer" called "Chimps on the Edge" will re-air at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The National Geographic Channel can be found on Time Warner Cable, channel 120; Dish Network, channel 186; and DirecTV, channel 276.

Here's the story published by The Buffalo News on Tuesday about the episode.

Click here to watch a clip.

--Aaron Besecker

Chatter on low-cost power

I wrote a story published today about a hearing on the state's discount electricity programs held in Niagara Falls.

Some audio clips from the session -- including portions of comments by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster and the Citizens Budget Commission's Elizabeth Lynam -- are available under the "related content" section near the top of the story.

--Aaron Besecker

Niagara Falls: the poster child for inefficiency

  "Governing" magazine took a crack this month at explaining the long history of government dysfunction in Niagara Falls.

   The article, entitled "How Bureaucracy and Bickering Brought Down Niagara Falls," appears in the September 2009 issue of the magazine. Writer Rob Gurwitt takes a hard look at how the region has let down Niagara Falls and contrasts that with planning efforts on the Canadian side of the falls.

   Among writer Rob Gurwitt's observations in the piece is the following tidbit:

   "... if you want to observe the effects of local government fragmentation and dysfunctional politics in their purest and most distressing form, Niagara Falls might be the ideal place to go."

   It's worth a read.

   - Denise Jewell Gee

Voices rise above political fray

   Like so many public discussions in Niagara Falls, a forum Monday night that focused on sex offenders living in the community eventually dissolved into debate about what's wrong with the city.

   High unemployment. Lost sense of community. General despair.

   The meeting, organized by former City Councilwoman Candra Thomason, had undertones of a political tussle even before it started. There were implications about what elected officials showed and which ones didn't. There were charges about who was actually invited and whether members of the community called people and asked them not to attend.

   For the record, the meeting was spearheaded by Republicans. Thomason, Niagara Falls Republican Chairman Robert Krause and State Sen. George Maziarz were all on the panel of speakers. Elected Democrats, including Mayor Paul A. Dyster, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and all five City Council members, did not attend. Dyster and DelMonte helped organize an earlier round-table discussion in July to discuss the issue.

   Read about Monday's meeting here. A story about the round-table discussion ran in July.

   Several of the residents who got up at the meeting Monday cared little about the political tensions.

   "We could talk about everybody who didn't show up, but who cares?" said Samika Sullivan, a Niagara Falls resident and social worker.

   Sullivan urged residents to focus on making positive change, to make their voices heard. Write letters to the editor, call out politicians, educate yourself about the issues, she suggested.

   "We could fill up this library with what's wrong with Niagara Falls," Sullivan said. "But all of us are here for a reason, because there's something about this city that we love."

   Another resident who attended the meeting left with this to say: "So what if this was political? This should be a political issue."

   - Denise Jewell Gee

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