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Officials to air support for major housing plan

NIAGARA FALLS -- Top officials from across the city will announce their unified support today for a major downtown housing initiative.

Mayor Vince Anello said the target area is bounded by Fourth and Niagara streets, John B. Daly Boulevard and Pine Avenue, and the plan is to develop housing and commercial opportunities in that area.

The city Economic Development Department is drafting the plan.

"The city has a clear understanding with others that housing is what we need to do to re-establish the City of Niagara Falls as a community to live and work in," Anello said Wednesday.

Representatives from City Hall, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the Niagara Falls City School District and the Seneca Gaming Corp., as well as local state lawmakers, are expected to gather to release further details at a news conference at 10 a.m. in the Conference Center Niagara Falls.

"All the partners that will be present will further emphasize that housing is a large piece of the puzzle for us to bring our community back to where it offers good, decent and safe neighborhoods," Anello said. "We need the state to become a major partner in these efforts."

The construction of new houses and apartments in downtown Niagara Falls is the key to revitalizing the city, agreed Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston.

"The lack of quality housing near the Seneca Niagara Casino has been an issue for many casino workers, as it has been for people who work in the hospital," she said Wednesday.

DelMonte is pushing a plan to encourage private developers to build new housing on the streets near the casino, initially attracting as many of the 3,000 casino workers as possible.

"That's a lot of people," she said. "If we provide market-rate, owner-occupied housing for them, others will follow."

Many of the casino workers travel up to 40 minutes to get to work, and some come from as far as 60 miles away, said Philip J. Pantano, the casino's public relations manager.

"There are a number of casino employees who would be interested in the availability of housing closer to the casino," Pantano said.

Maurice John, president of the Seneca Nation, and Barry E. Snyder Sr., chairman of Seneca Gaming Corp., are expected at the news conference to support the plan.

DelMonte said the timing is right for such a project, in view of Gov.-elect Eliot L. Spitzer's decision to make Buffalo the headquarters for his upstate New York economic development office.

Developing better housing near the casino has recently been stated as one of the goals of the Niagara Falls Urban Renewal Agency, which received $3.6 million from 2004 and 2005 casino slot revenues and is undergoing a boundary expansion to include the Niagara Street area.

City Councilman Lewis Rotella said he believes the housing initiative will be a mix of new homes, town homes and condominiums. He said it would involve purchasing a number of privately owned parcels and likely use eminent domain to acquire others.

A spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki said Pataki planned to sign a bill by a midnight Wednesday deadline that would guide 93 percent of local casino slot revenues to City Hall during the next 11 years, but Anello said that wouldn't stop him from asking for additional help from the state under Spitzer's administration.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com and bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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