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Falls moves toward agreement with Housing Authority Council seeks deal on casino funds for Center Court project

The City Council told the administration Monday to work out a funding agreement with the Niagara Falls Housing Authority for the $3 million in casino revenue the city promised to support the redevelopment of the Center Court complex.

The Housing Authority's $72 million program would demolish the current housing complex in the North End and replace it with 282 townhomes, mostly in the North End but with some in LaSalle. There would be a mixture of rental units and owner-occupied homes.

"With the size of this project, our share, as small as it is, is the most important part," said Councilman Charles Walker. "Without it, the state and [federal government] aren't willing to support it."

Authority Executive Director Stephanie Cowart told the Council at its meeting two weeks ago that it wants the city to put the local casino revenue in a separate escrow account before it can apply for some state grants.

At the same meeting, acting Corporation Counsel Damon DeCastro said he wanted to have a funding agreement in place before he would feel comfortable passing the money to the Housing Authority. DeCastro wanted to make sure the city would not lose the money if the project was not completed.

Instead of an agreement, the Council passed a resolution on Monday proposed by Walker asking the city to submit an agreement in order for the money to be disbursed.

Walker said he is frustrated that the issue is taking so long, and held up a copy of a letter the Housing Authority wrote to Mayor Vince Anello on Dec. 28 in which it agreed to terms laid out by DeCastro. He wanted to know why the Law Department hadn't drafted a new agreement based on that correspondence.

DeCastro told Walker there were still many issues that needed to be cleared up between the two public entities, such as whether the money would be restricted for certain uses. After a discussion with several Housing Authority officials after the work session, DeCastro said he would be able to write a new agreement today.

The other major pieces of funding for the redevelopment so far are: a $20 million Hope VI grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; $24 million in bonding authority by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency; and $10 million in Norstar Development USA equity, including tax credits.

Also on Monday, the Council:

*Unanimously voted to appoint Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. as its new chairman, and he was sworn in by Chief City Court Judge Mark A. Violante. Anderson replaces Walker as chairman, and Walker will continue to serve as a Council member.

*Approved a 3 percent pay raise for this year for 26 exempt city employees -- including the city administrator and both fire and police chiefs -- at a total cost of nearly $40,000.

*Reappointed Geraldine Donovan to the Planning Board, and replaced longtime board member Matteo Anello with newcomer John McNab, who also serves on the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board.

*Set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Jan. 22 regarding two proposed amendments to the city's tax law in favor of partial property tax breaks for the renovation and construction of rental properties with four or more units, and for new home construction.

*Approved a new temporary position in the Fire Department for someone to provide Life Safety Education, which will be funded with a $28,000 grant from the Department of Community Development.


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