We have now been presented with two proposals for what to do with the revenue created from the Seneca Niagara Casino. We have all read about the special projects and lofty plans for what to do with these important dollars. When the casino project was announced in 2001, this was the day we waited for, the day when the City of Niagara Falls might be presented with a tool to turn itself around and start moving forward. It seems like the tool is working against us and we are completely unprepared for what will happen next.
That is why last year, the Niagara USA Chamber commissioned and released a report that studied how other communities that experienced windfalls dealt with and invested their dollars. Communities like Schenectady and the state of Michigan invested found dollars in long-term projects that will help fuel the future through downtown development, and planning and investment in medical sciences that will provide jobs and opportunity well beyond the initial influx of cash.
While the Chamber is not arguing the fact that it is important to help the local hospital and school district, casino revenue must be invested based on criteria and accountability that will ensure long-term success and future investment. The Chamber study suggests the following:
A large percentage of the revenue be dedicated to an economic development activity fund.
A smaller percentage be dedicated to the City of Niagara Falls for hosting the casino.
A small percentage be committed to the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation.
For projects that receive dollars from the economic development fund, there must be controls, performance measures and strong accountability for those that receive these funds. We believe that the projects that receive funding should meet criteria such as:
Long-term sustainability after the initial investment.
Matching funds and private investment to match public investment.
Projected outcome of dollars and jobs created by the investment.
Once a project is funded based on these criteria, they will have to provide annual reports and follow up to prove that they have met the standards -- or else be prepared to return the money.
The current conversation going on is completely counterproductive to the positive outcomes we should be enjoying as a result of this windfall. Our elected officials should be pursuing a portion of the state revenue to cover projects such as the airport and the hospital as hotly as they are politicizing this situation.
We encourage all of those involved in this process to stop considering this money as their own personal piggy bank. You have been elected to consider the bigger picture and to provide a future for our community. This revenue is our future. Do the right thing.
Robert L. Newman is president and CEO of Niagara USA Chamber.