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Niagara Falls lawmakers finally approve upgrades to ice rinks

NIAGARA FALLS – A pair of ice rinks built in Hyde Park in the 1970s will have a longer life and be able to operate year-round after city lawmakers on Monday gave the go-ahead to the latest renovation phase.

What the City Council approved unanimously during a special meeting – which it had failed to approve twice in the past month – was a measure to borrow the money to do the construction at the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion.

The only difference between the Feb. 17 and March 2 votes and Monday’s was some added text to the resolutions – two additional sentences which said that casino funds would be used to pay the bond payment this year, and that it was anticipated that casino money will be used for that purpose in the coming years.

But that had always been the funding plan – it was even part of this year’s city budget approved by lawmakers.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster issued a statement after the Council’s vote thanking lawmakers for supporting the work, but adding that he was “disappointed in the process.”

“We wasted a month of staff time, and finally had to call a special session, to pass an item that is basically identical to the original proposal presented in February,” Dyster said in a written statement. “From Day One, it was made clear that casino revenue would be used for bond payments.”

The two lawmakers who previously voted against the borrowing – Councilmen Robert A. Anderson Jr. and Glenn A. Choolokian – asserted what was voted on Monday represented a change in the proposal.

Both Choolokian and Anderson said they would have initially supported this phase of the project had the payments come directly from casino funds without having to borrow. Previous phases of renovations at the ice pavilion have been paid for with casino funds and without the city having to borrow.

“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have any casino money to pay for this for cash,” said Anderson, who became a co-sponsor of Monday’s bonding resolution along with Chairman Andrew P. Touma.

Choolokian said borrowing isn’t “the perfect scenario,” adding the city should look at using casino funds next year to pay off the entire borrowed sum.

The estimated cost of the renovation work – which will replace the piping system beneath the rink floor, the dasher boards and glass, along with bleachers and safety netting – is about $3.1 million. The work is necessary, officials said, because the rinks’ deteriorated condition means they could fail at any time.

With interest, the city expects it will pay a total of roughly $4 million for the work over the 15-year borrowing period. It’s been described by supporters as the most important phase of the renovation work, which has been going on since 2009.

Using casino revenue to pay for the work in one fell swoop, and not borrowing, was not possible because all of this year’s expected casino funding has already been accounted for in the spending plan, Dyster has said.

The Council on Monday also awarded six contracts for the renovations.

Getting the work done at the ice pavilion is expected to be a tight squeeze for construction workers. The last scheduled hockey tournament at the facility finishes April 12. The work is expected to be completed in early September.

Dyster questioned why the rink operator, leagues, tournament organizers and construction companies had to “witness the bizarre spectacle” of the three attempts to pass the project.

Delaying the work, and possibly delaying the rink openings, would have cost area hospitality providers revenue and the city tax revenue, the statement said.

Instead, the public had to “sit and wait helplessly while personal political agendas called the approval of this project into question,” Dyster wrote.