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REBUILDING NIAGARA FALLS
READY-TO-START DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS OFFER HOPE FOR A NEEDED URBAN RENAISSANCE

Doubters will be pardoned if they want to see the proof before believing that the resurrection of Niagara Falls is at hand, but the evidence is encouraging. After years of decline, it is possible that the combined forces of the Seneca Niagara Casino and the state's USA Niagara Development Corp. are about to ignite the chain reaction of development that observers were hoping for.

More than two years after the casino opened, that hasn't happened yet. Although visitors have poured into Niagara Falls to gamble, surrounding businesses have reaped little benefit. What is more, the most obvious development prompted by the casino is a huge new hotel, which, like the casino, will also be held by the Seneca Nation. It was worth building, but it won't do a lot, on its own, to bolster the city's economy.

Nevertheless, as a recent Buffalo News story detailed, other projects are afoot. A $6 million renovation of the United Office Building should begin in May. Not far away, Smokin' Joe's Family Fun Center will offer concerts and family entertainment in the former Wintergarden.

There is more. Plans should be announced soon for the former Occidental Building and the neighboring, never-built underground aquarium, a.k.a. the big hole in the ground. Work should also soon begin on the transformation of Third Street into a four-block entertainment district. And Niagara Falls Redevelopment, the private-sector company with 8-year-old development rights on city land, may finally be preparing to act on its mandate with a $12 million, 25,000-square-foot project at 10th and Falls streets.

These are all hopeful signs of renewal in a city that should never have fallen so far, given the gift of one of the world's most famous natural wonders. That it did stumble so badly and has, to this moment, never picked itself back up explains what may be considered a wise skepticism on the part of many observers.

Things could still go wrong, of course, and even if they don't, these projects represent only the beginning of what is necessary for Niagara Falls to recoup its rightful place in the international tourist economy. But let's take a chance and view this glass as more than half full. The current slate of projects is not merely a list of idle proposals. It is an agenda for projects that look to have real prospects for completion. That is no small thing.

Perhaps the right strategy is for local observers to adopt the Reagan approach to arms reduction talks: "Trust but verify," the former president counseled. All the signs are good, but we should trust our own eyes. Seeing is believing.