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The Seneca Nation's new president, Barry E. Snyder Sr., says that construction projects under way at its Niagara Falls complex will be finished before the nation considers opening a third casino.

Niagara Falls couldn't be happier.

In a Nov. 4 interview with The Buffalo News, Snyder said his top priorities were finishing projects at the casinos in the Falls and Salamanca.

"We're still committed to Erie County, but we have a lot of investment in the other two casinos, and that's our main area of concentration. We want to bring them up to par," Snyder said.

The prospect of a third casino in Cheektowaga or Buffalo, in addition to its casinos in Niagara Falls and Salamanca, has been eyed warily in Niagara County. The Nation already has construction workers busy on a 26-story hotel in Niagara Falls and is planning a resort hotel in Salamanca.

A third construction site could draw off some of the Nation's focus and resources, which couldn't be good for Niagara Falls, Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello said last week.

"I think all the possibilities for the Senecas in Niagara Falls should be exploited first," he said. "Certainly, from a business sense, you'd want to see your first business be very successful, then move to another location."

When the Seneca Niagara Casino opened nearly two years ago, it instantly became the largest employer in Niagara Falls. In Niagara County, its 2,000 jobs is second only to Lockport's Delphi Corp.

The Seneca Niagara Falls hotel, whose steel girders are rising into the city skyline immediately east of the Seneca Niagara Casino, would likely create hundreds of additional jobs. Specific numbers were unavailable last week as Snyder was inaugurated.

A statement that the Senecas wanted to finish what they started is "certainly good news to me, and the businesses of downtown Niagara Falls," Anello said. "They have to saturate what they have in the 52 acres before we get a good bounce outside it, from businesses related to casino activity."

David Greenfield, interim president of the Niagara USA Chamber, said the group was "extremely supportive of the Seneca Nation, and the projects that are under way."

But the business community has to work together to take advantage of the opportunity that the casino presents, Greenfield said.

"There's an economic multiplier effect that's created when something happens like the Seneca Nation coming to a community and creating hundreds of jobs," he said. "It can only happen when all of us work together in a very positive atmosphere."

Anello said that businesses near the casino have benefited from its presence. With the help of USA Niagara Development, the state's Niagara Falls development office, the reconstruction of Third Street into a retail-restaurant strip is under way. And, certainly, hundreds of city residents working there has been an economic boon to the real estate market, he said.

Unfortunately, Anello said, businesses more than five blocks or so from the casino seem to have been more hurt than helped by its presence so far.

"What's been successful for the casino has been detrimental to many of the restaurants and other places in the city," he said. "Any disposable income residents may have that would normally go to dinner, or bingo, goes down to the casino."

The main way to overcome that is to grow out of it, Anello said -- for the downtown city center and tourism-related businesses to grow enough to compensate in tax revenues.

"We know it's going to take three to five years before we really start benefiting from the effects of the casino," he said.

Greenfield, of the Niagara USA Chamber, said he believes it's just a matter of time.

"The interest that's being taken, specifically on Third Street, is a perfect example of some spinoff development, to support what's already going on," he said. "I think it's an exciting time in the history of Niagara Falls."


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