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Guido rebuts while Cordish deceives city

Niagara Falls Repoerter

April 13, 2010

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Last week we reported on possible deception and, even further, a potential violation of law by cousins John and Debbie Guido and their partner, do-nothing developer David Cordish of Baltimore.

Apparently the Guidos did not like last week's article.

We reported that more than a decade ago Cordish acquired a 275-by-140-foot parcel of land that was once the city's most lucrative paid parking lot. Cordish the big-time developer persuaded City Hall officials not to waste such a choice parcel 300 feet from the Niagara Falls State Park for something as mundane as a parking lot, promising instead to develop a tourism attraction.

The Council, knowing he had developed big-time projects in other cities, gave him the lot. Cordish signed a contract that he would faithfully build at least a 10,000-square-foot building on the site, but he never did. Cordish later modified the deal with a promise to develop a major helium balloon attraction virtually out of "The Wizard of Oz."

Without one dime of his own money in it, Cordish then rented the lot to tenants who operated a greatly downscaled balloon ride. After five lackluster years, it went bust in 2006, leaving the lot vacant again.

This year Cordish, through his partner John Guido, went to the Niagara Falls Planning Board with a plan to install a ferris wheel and merry-go-round, along with a paid parking lot, thereby meeting the city's requirement for an attraction in order to charge for parking.

One of Guido's associates, Rick Whitney, however, told the Reporter the plan is to double the parking lot in defiance of City Hall. Other sources said the Guidos are going to install undersized rides in order to make almost the whole site into a private paid parking lot, completing a fleece of the city.

First, the revenue-generating parcel is given away on a promise that was never fulfilled, and now a parking lot is back, only this time taxpayers don't receive any revenue, with the profits going to Cordish and Guido.

The city (or a citizens group) needs to look at all this and determine if all the failed promises give the city an opening to reclaim the parcel.

Nevertheless it's another link in the city's problematic history with Cordish.

In 1982, Cordish was given a 75-year lease for the city-owned Rainbow Centre property in return for his promise to develop and maintain it as a first-class mall. After 10 years, the mall fell into disrepair and is now entirely vacant. Cordish then claimed he would turn it into an entertainment complex if the city cut his rent to $106,000 for the 282,000-square-foot mall. That's 45 cents a square foot, compared to the average rent for downtown property in Niagara Falls of $10 a foot. If he paid fair market rent, Cordish would pay $2.8 million per year.

He never built the promised entertainment complex.

Now the city is planning to buy back a third of Cordish's lease for the planned Niagara County Community College's culinary institute.

Elected officials are negotiating with Cordish to pay him millions for a third of the lease that should have been voided when he failed to keep his promises.

There's more: the 4-D Theatre in the Mist attraction. Billing it as a new world-class attraction, Cordish in 2003 claimed in his web site by publishing a press release and never retracting it or correcting it on his web site that he got $2 million from the state, partly by claiming he would invest $6 million of his own money on what eventually became a 60-seat theater inside Guido's JD souvenir and gift shop. The theater shows a 15-minute film on a screen about the size of a large plasma TV.

Entrance, conveniently enough, is through Guido's souvenir store.

The movie itself appears to be a homemade film about a woman who goes on some kind of discovery of the mysteries of the falls. The so-called living spirits are apparently clay figurines that move toward and away from the camera, trying to create an amateur 3-D effect. If you look hard, you might see the strings that hold them in the air. At odd times during the movie, water sprays up from tiny sprinklers in the floor, giving the audience the promised fourth dimension.

Cleary Cordish spent nowhere near 8.5 million.

And while he never got the state money as he has posted on his web site it has raised suspicions that he had ulterior motives in letting readers of his web site imagine that he did.

The whole theater probably cost him less than 1 million.

Like Cordish, Guido's history in the falls is disappointing.

Up until recently, Guido owned the Gray Line franchise for sight-seeing tours in Niagara Falls. His company was founded by his stepfather's cousin, Gene Guido, who was also a police detective.

In the mid-to-late '80s, Gene was involved in heated competition with Benjamin Tirabassi, who owned Bridal Veil Tours. It was not uncommon during that time for official street signs pointing to the falls to disappear. Tourists, unable to find their way, would be more likely to stop at Guido's roadside information stands, where salesmen were waiting to sell his tours.

Tour companies in competition with Guido also found their billboards painted over with arrows pointing away from their booths and toward Guido's tour centers instead.

In the summer of 1986, a firebomb exploded at an information center operated by Tirabassi. Another firebomb ripped through a tour booth operated by another tour operator, Alphonse Gavin.

Media attention became intense. Tirabassi told The New York Times the problem was Guido. Gavins added he did not want tourists accidentally killed by Guido. Mayor Michael O'Laughlin said there was not much anyone could do.

Soon after, the FBI began an investigation, and Guido found himself facing indictment for a number of offenses, including conspiracy with his salesmen, whom he paid in cash to evade income taxes. There are still those who say Guido informed on his own salespeople in order to avoid jail time. Many tour agents working for Guido were indicted on tax evasion charges. Most pleaded guilty to felony charges in return for probation and payment of taxes and penalties owed.

Later Guido wore a wire for the FBI and helped entrap a number of his personal friends.

After Gene died in 1998, the Gray Line bus tour company under John's management lost their ascendancy in the tour-bus business. This year, John lost their longtime franchise Gray Line. Sources say it was because he could not pay the $65,000 annual franchise fee.

Based on a count of buses they own and the locations they staffed, their business declined from more than 60,000 seasonal tour passengers to under 30,000.

Many in the local tourism industry know that Guido's company owes close to $1 million in delinquent rent and is in imminent danger of losing their best sales locations. At the state park, Guido owes an estimated $40,000 for unpaid ticket vouchers at the Cave of the Winds. At the Maid of the Mist last year, the management suspended their voucher privileges for non-payment. Unlike every other local tour-bus company that uses vouchers to allow their customers to seamlessly board and ride the boat, Guido's tour-bus drivers embarrassingly had to stand in line and pay on the spot to get their customers on the Maid of the Mist boat. Facing the uncertainty of opening this season, Guido even rented the tour booth location inside their JD souvenir store to Over The Falls Tours and not their own company.

And there are myriad other irregularities we haven't the space to include in this edition.

In any event, the Guidos were not happy with our publication last week.

Given their family history we wondered what they might do.

On Friday, April 9, the Niagara Gazette published a letter to the editor from one Gina Redden criticizing One Niagara's management of its parking lot. One Niagara's president is the distinguished Tony Farina. And, as some readers know, I have a managing membership interest in the LLC that owns the property.

Ms. Redden's letter read in part: "Recently, I was in the city and parked my car in a two-hour parking zone bordering (the One Niagara parking) lot. I left my father in the car while I crossed the street to the Hard Rock Cafe and turned to find 12 lot attendants harassing my father. I crossed back as to inquire to the problem and was verbally accosted in a hostile manner by one of the attendants insisting that I move my car. I politely asked him not to yell at me using foul language and aggressive body language. I pulled forward to turn right ... I watched (as other) drivers ... were verbally abused by the same man who accosted me. ... I, for one, was horrified by the behaviors of those employees."

After Farina and I read the article, we were confused.

Twelve parking lot attendants surrounding an old man in his car? Swearing at an innocent woman? Wait a minute. We do not have 12 parking lot attendants. In the offseason, we have only three. Where did the other nine come from?

"I have investigated the complaint alleged by the letter writer," Farina told the Reporter. "I have questioned all of our lot attendants, and there is no shred of evidence or even a hint that such an event took place. We would not tolerate such conduct and would take immediate action to remove any attendants who acted improperly."

Our Web research showed Internet multiple references for Gina Redden of Wilson.

She also uses the name Gina Guido-Redden.

I called John Guido, who in between expletives and threats, admitted she was his relative.

Like I said, Guido did not like our report.

All we really reported was the truth.

Hope bombs do not go off through our windows next.

Stay tuned.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.