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Katzman 'the Kat' bodes ill for fairness in Niagara Parks Commission - Glynn bidding

Niagara Falls Repoerter

January 26, 2010

By Frank Parlato Jr.,

Happy sailing. That's what they say.

In the wake of the Niagara Falls Reporter's expose, Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) Chairman Jim Williams resigned late last year in protest over the decision to put the Maid of the Mist out to bid. Then in January, Tourism Minister Monique Smith asked to be transferred. Perhaps she had had enough controversy over the Maid of the Mist.

Now Archie Katzman is acting chairman of the NPC.

Katzman, 79, has had his share of experiences. He's owned hotels, restaurants and a bowling alley. They are gone, and Katzman, or, as he likes to be called, "Kat," forgot nothing but to say goodbye to his creditors. When he declared bankruptcy in 1996, at age 67, he left his creditors -- with $7 million of bad paper.

Archie Katzman

Archie 'the Kat' Katzman

He is now the man in charge of running the NPC, that $80 million, part public stewardship -- part business enterprise -- encompassing 4,200 acres of parkland around Niagara Falls.

Although he declared poverty and works at a modest-paying job as manager of the St. Catharines club, Katzman drives a new Cadillac and sports a Rolex wrist watch and gold jewelry valued in the tens of thousands.

Katzman also acquired a condo in St. Catharines. Within three years, he or someone else paid off the mortgage.

The NPC was established by the Ontario Provincial government in 1885 to protect Niagara Falls from unscrupulous mercenaries who acted to enrich themselves without regard for the public's interest.

To manage the parks, a politically appointed board of commissioners, 10 to 12 in number, works part-time, for prestige and honor, getting only a $135 monthly stipend.

Katzman, its chief, has been on the commission for 39 years. Most NPC commissioners have served less than seven years.

"Maybe it's because I do a good job," Katzman said.

Katzman attends golf tournaments, political dinners and so-called charity auctions, hosting the annual St. Catharines Mayor's Golf Tourney. He charges an entrance fee of $300. Each player gets a free round of golf at the NPC-owned Legends Golf course. No one knows exactly where the money winds up. Katzman, as chairman of the golf committee, takes, at NPC's expense, golf trips to check out how other golf courses operate.

Somehow these trips happen to coincide with the time and places where PGA tournaments are occurring. Katzman also takes care of his friends.

For instance, provincial records show that Donald Ward, a builder in St Catharines, on Sept. 3, 1999, gave Katzman an interest-free mortgage of $208,450 for a brand-new condo in St. Catharines, $30,000 more than the purchase price of $177,567. Less than a year later, Ward's Charter Building Company won a $5.7-million public tender to build the clubhouse at the NPC's new Legends golf complex.

Ward later discharged the mortgage, leaving Archie with a brand new, paid in full Condo.

Again, in 2007, Charter won a $20.5-million contract to overhaul the main tourist building at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls.

Katzman, who both lobbied and sponsored the motion to pass both deals, claims, since they were publicly tendered, "I am so squeaky clean on that."

"It was a public tender...a tender's a tender. You either win it or you don't. The guy just happens to be a friend of mine, who won the contract," Katzman said.

Ward said it is OK to get multimillion-dollar contracts recommended by a commissioner whom he gifted hundreds of thousand of dollars to.

"That's just the way life is," Ward said, "and to me that's private between individuals."

Katzman said he paid Ward back but refused to produce the checks.

Katzman also gave "friendship" to Ward's son, Rob, getting him the prestigious golf pro gig at a commission-owned Whirlpool golf course. Katzman helps his own sons, too. Both of Katzman's sons have been the recipients of advantages.

"What's important to me is my wife and family," Katzman said, "and I know I'm as clean as a whistle."

His son, Steve, owner of a telecom franchise, got the contract for services for the parks staff's mobile phone system. Katzman insisted he had no role in his son's lucrative deal.

"I defy anyone -- anyone -- to say I was any part of those things," Archie says. "I've been around too long to know better than that."

The younger Katzman, his nose growing, competing with his father in elongation, claimed his father wasn't even aware of his cell phone deal with the parks until after it was signed.

In 2005, Canadian pro golfer Mike Weir launched a line of Niagara wines. Weir has no winery, but partnered with vintners such as Chateau des Charmes Winery in St. Davids to make wines and put Weir's name on the label.

Weir, in what some might describe as a left handed swing, hired Barry -- Archie's eldest son. When Barry worked for Creekside Wines and Wines of Wood's End respectively, both wineries happened to win the tender to be the house pour wine at NPC restaurants. According to sources, Wines of Wood's End's bid was won under interesting circumstances. When Barry came in late -- - just after Archie had seen all the bids -- his bid was just a hair lower than the lowest bidder.

Now Weir and Barry Katzman have plans to build a winery on a 15-acre parcel of land next to the Whirlpool Golf Course -- which just happens to be owned by the NPC.

The shovels were expected to be in the ground last summer. But when the Niagara Falls Reporter published its series on the corrupt doings at the NPC, things got derailed.

There are 67 vintners in Niagara Falls, Ont. Why should one pseudo winery get the exclusive right to operate on public land? Instead of promoting only Weir wines -- which does not even grow its own grapes -- the NPC should promote the entire region's elegant wines.

And Archie takes care of himself. One of our sources -- who is married to an elected official in Canada and worked at the NPC -- said a number of people quit the NPC because they were put into compromising positions over "Archie Contracts" -- deals Archie made without commission approval.

One man said, "Archie sent him" and demanded a check for $5,000. Katzman was called, and, according to our source, Katzman said, "Just give him $5,000 and write up a general contract for services." They never saw the man again after he left with $5,000.

On a bigger scale, the Legends Golf Course was originally estimated by Katzman to cost $27 million, but wound up costing more than $40 million. Katzman lined up "friends" who got paid to build the escalating course.

Katzman also led the charge to build the $40 million Table Rock improvement with the virtual reality ride "fury." That contract went also to Katzman friends. The Fury did so poorly that projections Katzman used to justify the enormous expenditure at Table Rock were off by 99 percent.

Consequently, the NPC began layoffs. Park employment fell from 750 to under 500 during the last few years.

Astonishingly, in the midst of this, instead of trying to increase income on the biggest lease the park has, Katzman secretly negotiated with businessman James Glynn to reduce Glynn's rent on the Maid of the Mist lease.

Indeed it was this secret scheme that put unwelcome light on Katzman, as commissioner Bob Gale broke ranks and complained that Katzman quietly brokered the Maid deal then sprung it on the full board for a vote, without disclosing competitors' interest in bidding.

After the Niagara Falls Reporter's expose, Minister of Tourism Smith ordered the commission to tender the Maid boat tours.

Katzman now openly supports Glynn's recent scare tactic campaign.

According to financial statements given to Commissioners in March 2008, Maid of the Mist spent $16 million on fixed assets since 1972. Their investment is less than a half a million per year on an operation that makes 20 plus million per year.

Nonetheless, Glynn threatened to demolish the three-story administration building they built on park property, a marine workshop and rails and shuttles that move boats out of the water rather than let a newcomer use it for the public good.

Katzman supports Glynn's plans to destroy fixtures on public land.

But the expired Glynn lease required that Glynn build his own buildings and "deliver the Demised Premises, building and equipment located thereon, to the Landlord at the expiration of this Lease."

If Glynn thinks that destroying his measly $16 million investment will be a barrier to someone bidding for an $800 million deal, he is indeed na•ve.

Ripley Entertainment, Alcatraz Media, CamPark Resorts, Xanterra Resorts and Entertainment Cruises have all expressed interest in bidding. Disney and the Seneca Gaming Corp. have also been mentioned as possible bidders.

Katzman also supports the treasonous concept that Glynn, not the Niagara Parks Commission, owns the name Maid of the Mist.

The name belongs in the public domain.

The lease he signed attests to it. Paragraph 6.03 reads, "Tenant (Glynn) acknowledges that it does not claim any interest in or rights in the words 'Maid of the Mist' ... and NPC is free to use 'Maid of the Mist'."

The reason Katzman supports the idea of an American stealing the heritage name Maid of the Mist from Canada is so he can give weight in the RFP to Glynn owning the name.

That's what friends are for.

Using the public's assets instead of your own, as the Kat knows, makes lots of friends.

Happy sailing.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.