While Niagara Falls is in urgent need of private development, especially when there's no request for public funding, local and state leaders should take a go-slow approach to a proposal by Joseph M. "Smokin' Joe" Anderson to build a combination retail outlet, cigar shop and Off Track Betting branch on Old Falls Street.
The reason is simple: the city has a comprehensive plan that envisions development building on the "success and momentum" already present. That success includes Niagara County Community College's new $26 million culinary arts center, slated to open in September. The proposed betting parlor would sit across from the school.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster says he isn't a prude and understands that there's already a casino in the center of his city, but he makes the point that the development under way needs to continue.
Anderson's proposal appears to fly in the face of hopes that the area will become the Elmwood Strip of Niagara Falls, a vibrant destination for some of the millions of tourists after they leave Niagara Reservation State Park.
USA Niagara Development Corp., a subsidiary of Empire State Development, has made real progress in improving Old Falls Street in downtown Niagara Falls.
Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., another ESD subsidiary, has made huge strides in developing Buffalo's waterfront. USA Niagara hopes to follow that blueprint by focusing on economic development in a specific area of downtown Niagara Falls. The many infrastructure improvements have laid the groundwork for private sector investment.
Old Falls Street has recently undergone a $12 million reconstruction and has been called Western New York's greenest street, with its bio-swales, marine gardens and recycled materials.
In addition to the street reconstruction, the city has seen a $20 million conference center built and the opening of a new Sheraton Hotel, which includes a T.G.I. Friday's. The culinary institute is under construction and the Hamister Development Group has proposed a $22.5 million project that includes retail, a hotel and residential units on a piece of land next to the culinary institute.
These projects are all large-scale developments, unlike Anderson's proposal. His project could cost between $1.3 million and $1.7 million and add 9,500 square feet of new retail space to the north side of the Quality Hotel & Suites, owned and operated by his company, NF Hotel LLC.
A prime piece of property in a tourism district hardly seems like the best place for an OTB parlor and cigarette shop. USA Development should be aiming for the highest, best use along a street filled with promise.