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A CALL FOR ACTION, NOT WORDS

The touch of impatience that newly installed Niagara Falls Mayor Irene J. Elia brings to her meetings with the Niagara Falls Redevelopment Corp. surely resonates with the residents of her city. Promises have not translated into prosperity for the neighborhoods near the falls.

In demanding action and a visible start on at least one project in the next six months, Elia is giving voice to some long-standing frustrations over the repeated failure of much-heralded projects to revitalize an area that was gutted but never revived by a massive "urban renewal" effort.

Some of the downtown area's vitality has shifted to Pine Avenue, at least for local interests. But the downtown area -- which is all most tourists see -- still has a lot of vacant land and underutilized buildings. Niagara Falls Redevelopment's wide-ranging proposals offer as much promise as any for rebirth, but the pace has been painfully slow.

In 1997 the company promised $130 million in redevelopment investments, and committed to "commence spending $20 million" by the middle of last month. So far, company officials said, $7 million has been spent on planning and negotiations, the purchase of the old United Office Building and contributions to community groups.

Twice already this month, the new mayor has told company officials that's not enough. She wants something tangible, something beyond palaces of phrases and wonderlands of words.

That's not unreasonable, and Niagara Falls Redevelopment officials need to work with the mayor's office to identify and build a project, as they have promised. The city needs that sign of progress, especially from a company that hasn't yet been able to fulfill another pledge to increase bookings in the convention center it now manages.

Niagara Falls Redevelopment has made no secret of its belief that casino-based redevelopment would be bigger and better, but it has committed to work on the city's downtown even without that controversial centerpiece. Elia's mandate for visible progress is warranted. The new mayor needs to know whether this economic engine is stalled before she tries to find a way to restart it.

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