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Mayor goes nuts in Niagara Falls

Battle for parking pits Government against private business

July 07, 2009

By Frank Parlato Jr.

The mayor came by.

At One Niagara.

He came in his new taxpayer bought-and-paid-for $50,000 SUV.


He was with his $110,000-per-year city administrator from Atlanta, Donna Owens.

The mayor said when he hired the lovely Miss Owens that he would only accept "the brightest and best" for his administration, and consequently there was no one in his opinion in this callow Niagara Falls that could meet his standards.

Not even for $110,000.

He leaned out of his proud new SUV while the comely Miss Owens remained seated -- at the corner of Prospect and Mayor O'Laughlin, next to the Niagara Falls State Park -- and he was livid.

Although indirect, it was my first contact with Paul Dyster, mayor of Niagara Falls.

Not that I haven't tried.

Under the unflattering influence of his puppeteer, James Glynn -- owner of the Maid of the Mist and de facto ruler of the state park -- Dyster, I suspect, is forbidden to talk to me.

But the mayor came, on Tuesday, June 30, to the corner, apparently because an employee of One Niagara, Nick Catanzaro, was trying to get people to park at One Niagara instead of the state parking lot.

Three lots compete to serve the parking needs for visitors to the American Falls. The state lot parks 300 cars, One Niagara parks 250, and lastly the city's five-story Rainbow Parking Ramp parks 1,800.

When it opened in 1982, the Rainbow ramp and Rainbow Centre Mall were the linchpin of the city's plan to reap dollars from tourists visiting the falls.

Baltimore-based David Cordish got the lease, which required him to maintain a first-class mall in return for low payments of $100,000 per year for 70 years.

Cordish didn't maintain the mall. In fact, it's vacant.

However, the city was supposed to maintain the parking ramp surrounding the mall, and it didn't.

Last year, Dyster started bashing Cordish, saying he was violating the lease, cheating the city and hurting downtown by leaving the mall vacant.

Big mouth, small brain.

Cordish got mad and sued, and quick enough big-mouth Dyster sued for peace, promised never to say a word against Cordish and gave away the only thing the city ever had to enforce on Cordish -- Dyster renegotiated the requirement that Cordish had to develop a mall.

Cordish can keep it vacant now for the next 50 years and never develop anything and hamstring downtown -- unless he is bought out for a price.

Smart mayor, that.

Meanwhile, at the city-owned Rainbow ramp, broken lights hang perilously above where pedestrians walk, tiles are loose, there is exposed steel and crumbling concrete, and particle board in place of broken windows. It is riddled with graffiti, obscenities adorn the walls, the stairs smell of urine. Drugs are sold. There have been robberies.

The moral superiority Dyster pretends for his administration is compromised by his neglect of this prime parcel of real estate 1,200 feet from Niagara Falls and his craven capitulation to Cordish.

Frankly, people prefer to park at One Niagara.

No harm. Everyone more or less winds up going to the same place -- the American Falls.

Meanwhile, the state park misleadingly bills itself an "Olmsted Park," after Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect. Olmsted persuaded New York to create America's first state park in 1886 with his design of nature untouched.

"It may be safely assumed," Olmsted said, "that no improvement that the State can make will increase the astonishing qualities of Niagara."

Olmsted, prohibiting restaurants and stores in the park, called it "a cardinal necessity of the success of the plan." He wrote, "If it were a commercial undertaking into which the State was entering, in competition with the people of the village of Niagara, it cannot be questioned that (a) restaurant could be made profitable."

Today the park has restaurants and stores and the growing commercial ambience has eradicated Olmsted's vision. Olmsted also planned, in what is truly a small park, that there would be no land set aside for parking except a few "shady harbors" under trees for brief stopping, "because at best many trees must be destroyed."

In 1987, Albany clear-cut acres of trees for parking. Their plan is brilliant -- the routing of people along the Robert Moses State Parkway into the state lot, to pay $10 for parking, $14.50 for the Maid of the Mist, $10 for the Cave of the Winds, buy all souvenirs and meals in the park. After an average four-hour stay, without an advertisement for any attraction in the city, millions leave believing there's nothing else to do in Niagara Falls. Every tourist dollar is spent in the park alone.

Prior to 1987, tourists parked in the city, including the Rainbow ramp. This helped the Rainbow Mall immensely. When Albany, instead of an Olmsted park, converted it to a business, the city lost millions in tourism, the mall went down and Albany hogged the lion's share of the tourism pie.

The state's parking lot expansion also benefited James Glynn, owner of the Maid of the Mist boat tours. The parking lot was coincidentally located next to his attraction.

Fifteen years later, in 2002, Glynn persuaded park officials to secretly reduce his rent on his boat tours from 10 percent to 4 percent, then got them to turn over the state-owned Observation Deck to his control -- which actually makes him more money than he pays in rent.

It must have taken a lot of friendly persuasion to get government officials (technically his landlord and stewards of our public land) to switch from Glynn the tenant paying rent to the park, to the landlord -- the park -- paying Glynn. Naturally, the Albany/Glynn state park needs to grab every car first.

So be it. Call it business. Call it profiteering. Call it corruption. But don't call it an Olmsted park.

When cars park at One Niagara, conversely, the city gets the benefit. Last year, One Niagara paid $437,000 in property taxes, culled mainly from its parking lot. And 8 percent is paid in sales tax, which is shared with the city. Additionally, cars parked at One Niagara help vendors in the building, where an international food court, stores, bus shuttles, information, ticket booths and a ninth-floor observation area exist.

One Niagara and its vendors employ about 200 people.

The mayor might be proud of such a success, all done without a dime of government money. But Glynn was the mayor's biggest campaign contributor.

In any event, last Tuesday, Nick had a successful day luring people to avail themselves of One Niagara's services and not park in the state parking lot.

Then the mayor came by.

"At first I thought he was a tourist shouting in a foreign language," said Nick. "He leaned out the window and seemed to be babbling. I recognized the license plate NF1, but wasn't sure if he was the mayor."

"He was screaming," said one witness, "spittle flying from his mouth. He said to (Nick) you better stop *** trying to get cars from the state. I'm going to put you behind bars, you little ****. Do you understand me, you ****!"

Another witness said, "I do not know if he was tipsy from anger. He said something like 'I have the *** authority to get you arrested, you ***! You cannot stand on the *** sidewalk!'"

"The mayor went out of his mind!" added Jeff DeJohn, a local vendor. "He screamed -- not talked, screamed. I could scarcely believe it was the actual mayor."

(Above) A vendor's video camera captured a portion of the mayor's visit.

"He was swearing at the man and threatening him with the police," confirmed Matt Cipollitti, general manager of La Bruschetta restaurant and son of Niagara Falls Reporter publisher Dan Cipollitti. "To see him lose it like that. You know the saying, 'Lose your temper, lose your ass.'"

One vendor had a video camera, and a portion of the mayor's visit was captured on film.

Curiously, while threatening a One Niagara employee with arrest if he stood on the sidewalk, earlier that same week the mayor ordered municipal employees to stand on the sidewalks and divert traffic into the Rainbow Parking Ramp.

Now, in a fit -- a little like he was intoxicated with power, somewhat incoherent -- the mayor came in person, drunk with power, to yell at a One Niagara employee for doing the same thing.

It would not be so bad if Dyster was fighting for the Rainbow ramp, which cost taxpayers more than a million during the last three years. But the mayor was fighting for the state parking lot, where the city gets zero from every car parked.

Poor Dyster.

To call himself such a big name: mayor of Niagara Falls. But yet seemingly so disdainful that he has such a motley group to govern.

To mitigate the embarrassment, perhaps, Dyster has hired people from out of town -- "the brightest and best" -- for all top positions at City Hall, to work above Niagara Falls residents. His deputy mayor is from Atlanta ($110,000 per year); his economic chief, Ohio ($100,000); engineer, Iran ($90,000); attorney, Buffalo ($93,000). He passed over locals.

He cavorts mainly with the local pro-Albany crowd and bends the knee to elitist Glynn.

The man doesn't even have his beer business here.

One cannot blame Glynn and Albany interests for using the puppet mayor.

A meal or a souvenir sold at One Niagara is not sold in the Olmsted park. People who come to One Niagara sometimes buy Whirlpool Jet Boat tours or other attractions and don't always go on the Maid of the Mist.

Glynn owns a souvenir store in the Olmsted park.

Glynn and his Albany clique cannot be pleased. Their minion -- that ambitious, little, hot-tempered tiny-town mayor -- is displeased.

Even so, it won't do the mayor much good to come over smashed and flush with anger and scream at Nick. Nick's just helping fulfill Olmsted's vision -- getting the city folk some revenue.

Competition with this particular state park is a good thing, you know.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.