When state lawmakers signed a deal to distribute the local share of slot-machine revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino's 2004 and 2005 operations, they set aside $3.6 million for the Niagara Falls Urban Renewal Agency.
The agreement called for the money to be used for "economic development to facilitate private investment, private sector job creation and expansion of the tax base within the city." City leaders have discussed using that money as an economic development tool to foster new private development projects, like building new market-rate housing downtown.
Now city leaders are considering another use for some of that money.
The mayor and City Council last week agreed to transfer $500,000 of the casino money from the Urban Renewal Agency to rebuild streets, reconstruct sidewalks and tear down dilapidated buildings throughout the city. The Urban Renewal Agency's board will vote today on the same measure.
Mayor Vince Anello contends that using the money for streets, sidewalks and demolitions is not out of line with a memorandum of understanding signed by former Gov. George E. Pataki last August that earmarked a portion of the city's casino money to its renewal agency.
Anello pointed to a state law that outlines how slots revenue can be spent and includes economic development, infrastructure replacement and casino-related expenses as items for which the money can be used.
"We all understand that economic development follows a pattern of upgrading your infrastructure, whether it's streets and sidewalks and also the appearance of a neighborhood," Anello said. "Strong neighborhoods are going to make a healthier city. A healthier city is going to create a feeling that people want to invest here."
The Urban Renewal Agency in May approved transfering $605,000 of the casino revenue to the city's banking arm, the NFC Development Corp., to fund five economic-development loans for small businesses in the city.
That leaves plenty of additional money in the Urban Renewal Agency's account to use for economic development in the future, said Councilman Christopher A. Robins.
"Right now, we're not using that," Robins said. "So if a need comes up that's dealing with streets, sidewalks and those types of things, I think we have to look at moving it into that area."
Council Chairman Robert Anderson Jr. said the Council approved using $500,000 of the agency's money for streets, sidewalks and demolitions on the condition that city leaders receive a list of the work that will be done before contracts are approved.
"It's just not a blank check," Anderson said.