NIAGARA FALLS – Although Mayor Paul A. Dyster gave the city high marks for continued progress and development in 2015, he cautioned that moving forward, the city must be “committed to making sure no neighborhood is left behind.”
The mayor, who recalled a year of positive developments and reduced crime in his annual State of the City address Thursday night, also pointed to troubling statistics for the Buffalo Niagara region showing that 37 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics live below the poverty line, compared with 9 percent of whites. The 2010-14 unemployment rate for the region’s blacks was more than 17 percent, 14 percent for Hispanics and 6.4 percent for whites, he said.
Dyster pointed to discrimination, segregation in housing, problems with transportation and inequalities in education as the culprits.
The city, he said, has already begun policies to increase the availability of healthy foods in hard-hit neighborhoods and is working with Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, a faith-based organization, to bring young black males into the workforce. Job training, more housing for declining neighborhoods and jobs within walking distance of public housing are the next steps, the mayor added.
New development was a bright light in 2015, with the City Assessor’s Office reporting about $15 million in new assessed valuation to the tax rolls
“For years, we have bemoaned the economic decline of our city,” he said.
“Through hard work, strategic planning and investment, we have seen the tide turn for the first time in a generation, maybe two. We can begin to point to a brighter tomorrow.”
In particular, he pointed to Military Road, near the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, where the LaSalle Center, a new 114,000-square-foot retail plaza, is 75 percent leased with tenants including Petco, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Shoe Carnival.
Dyster said that tremendous private-sector investment is boosting the tourism industry, with a number of new hotels and restaurants, including Tony Roma’s and the Rainforest Cafe.
The largest project, Wonder Falls Resort, is in the preliminary stages of being developed at the site of the former Rainbow Centre mall.
Heavy industry is part of the city’s past, Dyster added, but it still plays an important role in its future.
“In 2015, Tulip Molded Plastics, a company that had a 100-year history in Niagara Falls, committed to staying (along with 84 jobs). Let me assure you, this was no small feat,” said Dyster, who compared economic development in the 21st century to being “like a blood sport.”
Instead of relocating out of the city, Tulip will expand to the cleaned-up former Prestolite battery factory and will break ground next month, Dyster said.
“For years, some looked longingly over the border at our sister city and lamented their growth. What transpired across the river was not by accident,” Dyster said.
“It was a coordinated effort by private sector, municipal, provincial and federal governments. Until recently, those partnerships were not evident here. That is no longer the case.”
Dyster opened his address with kudos to public safety, including the Police Department, which has seen a drop in crime through targeted efforts, and the Fire Department, which had a record response of 7,035 runs in 2015 and no fire-related fatalities.
Dyster said casino funds were used to purchase public safety equipment and upgrade Fire Department facilities.