Have you ever looked at an optical illusion and seen one thing while another person looks at it and sees something else? It's all in the perception.
That's what our Niagara Falls city leaders must overcome if they are to make the downtown area viable once again. They must overcome the perception that most people have: The downtown area is unsafe and there is nothing to do. While the second part may be somewhat true, the first part is due to an inaccurate perception.
Recently I attended a luncheon and sat around a table with seven other senior citizens from Western New York. Discussing Niagara Falls, they all said they won't go downtown because it is unsafe. Lest one think this is just a problem for seniors, recently I had lunch in a restaurant in the Town of Niagara where several young men were having their lunch break from their jobs. They began a discussion about the state of the city and they, too, said they don't go downtown because it is unsafe.
Also recently, two members of our church congregation related that when they tried to encourage their friends, who were searching for a church, to come to our church, they were greeted with, "I don't go downtown -- ever!"
From experience, I know that downtown is no more unsafe than most other parts of the city, and in fact, in many cases it is safer. It is all in the perception. Until we can eliminate the perception that downtown is not unsafe we will never re-energize it.
As far as having nothing to do, that is another problem. When Niagara Falls Redevelopment came to town, they held numerous public meetings in the old Convention Center, eliciting suggestions from citizens. They came up with a master plan that was absolutely wonderful. Imagine theaters, cafes and shops along a man-made canal; we were excited and bought into the vision. Once again, our hopes were dashed.
No sense laying blame -- although the state of New York should take the brunt of it -- because we can't accomplish anything looking back. When the city fathers destroyed the downtown, and more importantly the neighborhood during urban renewal, they changed the complexion of the whole area. Retail business cannot survive in this climate on tourist dollars alone. There must be a residential neighborhood and unique attractions to entice locals for business to survive year-round.
When the United Office building was supposed to be renovated into apartments, and with rents at a reasonable price, I was excited that residents would be populating the downtown area. Once again, our city leaders screwed up and took the project away from the development group. Now we only hope the current project will result in some permanent residents.
This is an election year and we will hear all kinds of things the candidates will be "working to accomplish." I'm afraid we all may have the perception that it is, as MASH's Col. Potter would say, "horse hockey."
We need to re-establish and reinvigorate our neighborhoods. The city conducts in-rem tax auctions of properties. Rather than let speculators and absentee landlords pick these up and either let them wither away, or rent them to transients to use as drug houses, why can't we have a program to sell those properties to low-income working families that may not have down payments for a conventional mortgage? We could sell the property for $1 with the requirement that they be brought up to code and lived in by the purchaser for a set number of years. The buyers could then use the current equity to obtain a low-interest mortgage with payments they could afford and use that money to renovate the building.
That would put the properties back on the tax rolls and people who purchase them would have an incentive to keep them up. Those families would own their own home -- a dream of Americans.
With all our departments and agencies, surely some program such as this would be possible. I'm saddened when I drive through the neighborhoods in which I spent so much time in years past and see the degradation. Yet in every neighborhood there are homes that are "hanging on," with property that is beautifully kept up. The perception of rotting neighborhoods can and should be reversed.
Wal-Mart doesn't care about N. Tonawanda
In response to "North Tonawanda: The Wal-Mart Divide" (Oct. 16), Wal-Mart will not be the quick economic fix many supporters claim. At the Common Council meeting, Tammy Godyn said, "It is time we get this area developed and back on our tax rolls." While bringing more tax dollars into our community is a worthwhile goal, Wal-Mart is not the right company for the job.
In communities across the country, Wal-Mart balks at paying its fair share of property taxes. An Oct. 10 New York Times article entitled, "Study says Wal-Mart often fights local taxes," highlighted the findings of Good Jobs First, an advocacy organization, which released a report showing that Wal-Mart has sought to reduce the property taxes it pays on 35 percent of its stores and 40 percent of its distribution centers nationwide.
This means more money is siphoned away from our schools, public services are reduced or our citizens are asked to pay more. Wal-Mart doesn't care about contributing to North Tonawanda -- it only cares about making a profit. Any money we spend at a Wal-Mart store will immediately leave the community and go to corporate profits, as opposed to patronizing local businesses like Tops and Budwey's, which keep their money local.
All of our citizens want North Tonawanda to thrive, but Wal-Mart's loyalty is only to itself. Residents shouldn't be fooled.
'Annual' slots revenue should be here by now
What does it take for Niagara Falls to stand up for itself? I can't believe there is so much cash lying around that they aren't after the Senecas for the slot machine money. The Seneca compact calls for paying the state 18 percent of net slot machine revenue on an "annual basis" for the first four years of casino operations.
Last year, the payment was made in September. So far this year, there isn't even an expected date of delivery for funds. What exactly does annual mean? If the payment came through in September 2006, then it should be no later than September 2007.
Shame on politicians who are supposed to be responsible for our finances for not including a specific date in the compact and not imposing interest and fees for late payments. And shame on [Mayor] Vince Anello for his lax attitude. I wonder if he would be more assertive if he were on the ballot for next year.
Legislators let us down forsaking Mount View
Residents of Niagara County, your legislators and County Manager Greg Lewis have let you down. The Mount View Nursing Home is closing because the leaders in Niagara County have chosen to abandon the elderly population. The staff at Mount View provided excellent care and made it a first-class facility and home. The county should have taken pride in Mount View and fought for it, but they caved in to the Berger Commission.
Don't be fooled. Your taxes will not decrease by Mount View's closing. Western New York has an aging population and the need for skilled nursing facilities will increase. The timing of the December closing of Mount View speaks volumes about the totally soulless public servants (like Mr. Lewis) that this area can do without. We need more people like the Mount View staff and fewer ineffectual legislators whose only care is that they get your vote.
Weather EEEErie for final event
The board of trustees of the North Tonawanda History Museum offers its apology for the cancellation of the last of the three Haunted Gardens on the EEEErie Canal performances on Oct. 27, due to the high winds and rain that day.
Weather reports all day indicated that wind and rain would continue and worsen as the evening progressed.
We offer the event on three Saturdays prior to Halloween so that, hopefully, at least one or two will be able to take place. We hope you will attend one of the weeks next year.
Donna Zellner Neal, director, North Tonawanda History Museum