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Seneca Nation plans gas station, convenience store in Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS – Despite protests four years ago that stopped a similar plan, the Seneca Nation and its gaming corporation announced Tuesday that they are within their sovereign rights to move forward on a plan to build and own a gas station and convenience store on sovereign territory near Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino.

Seneca leaders said they plan to break ground for the station in the near future and open it by June.

The station will include the capacity for both petroleum and electrical energy.

Seneca President Maurice A. John called the project in keeping with the nation’s commitment to spur additional development across the region.

Not everyone favors the plan, however.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster called it a “slippery slope” if the Senecas get away from gaming activities associated with the casino.

The mayor said the city supports the nation’s sovereignty, but thinks there are better options for its land in the city.

“With regards to the gas station, we’ve heard various concerns from the community, especially owners of gas stations and convenience stores who are concerned about unfair competition,” he said.

“They say, ‘We are taxpaying citizens in the City of Niagara Falls. Moreover, we are paying the New York State sales tax on items we sell, and therefore we don’t want to see untaxed competition.’ ”

In 2012, the state stepped in to stop a similar project, but the current Seneca leadership asserts that their activities are not governed by the state.

“Determining the future use and development of our sovereign lands is the right and responsibility of the Seneca Nation,” John said in a statement. “The project is in keeping with those sovereign rights as recognized by the federal government along the Niagara Street corridor.”

The nation controls 50 acres in the city, bordered by Niagara Street to the north, John B. Daly Boulevard to the east, Rainbow Boulevard to the south, and Third Street to the west. The new development will be near the intersection of Daly Boulevard and Niagara Street.

Barry E. Snyder Sr., chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp. board of directors, said the station is part of the Senecas’ first step in making the east side of its territory a “true gateway to the city.”

John wrote: “We aim to be a good neighbor and a strong partner (with the City of Niagara Falls). We believe this latest investment by the Seneca Nation will help to encourage further traffic into the city and the region, and more importantly, begin to drive more activity to the Niagara Street corridor.”

Seneca Nation research shows that there is strong potential for future public-private investment and development along Niagara Street, he said, and the vision is to create a “quality, long-term addition to the city streetscape.”

John wrote that the Seneca Nation hopes the project will lead to additional development, such as housing, along the corridor.

Seneca Nation leaders also are looking into an entertainment complex for the area, and they have asked local politicians to lobby developer Howard P. Milstein, who owns or has claim to more than 140 adjacent acres, to come to the table to help make a new convention center a reality.

Construction on the gas station could begin immediately, as weather permits, according to Seneca Nation spokesman Philip J. Pantano.

A request for proposals that The Buffalo News obtained last month stated that a One Stop station would be located at 621 Niagara and have 20 to 24 pumps and four 10,000-gallon underground tanks.

Seneca officials said Tuesday that they had a strong working relationship with the City of Niagara Falls, including positive discussions on this latest development.

In 2012, Howard B. Glaser, director of state operations and senior policy adviser to the governor, in a letter to then-Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter, cited a “competitive disadvantage” and said he shared the community’s deep concern about the potential impact a gas station/convenience store would have on small businesses in the area.

Whether the state has changed its thinking on the matter remains unclear, but in a presentation to local leaders last week, Sean M. Caffery, chief executive officer of Seneca Development, briefly touched on the gas station plan. Caffery said that the federal government approves Seneca Nation territories and that the state puts no restrictions on the land.