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Editorial: State proposes a bold strategy to break impasse hindering city’s redevelopment

If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to develop prime Niagara Falls land succeeds, it may prove his biggest victory yet.

Albany lawmakers would have to cooperate and allocate the money. And, of course, property owners, some intractable, would have to agree to sell.

The winners would be a city and region too long held captive by landholders who have categorically refused for decades to unlock prime pieces of property. Nothing, it seemed, could persuade them to loosen their grip and allow progress.

The prospect of a payday from the state could provide the necessary motivation. Cuomo wants the state to purchase vacant buildings and empty land within walking distance of the falls for redevelopment, as News business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein wrote.

The properties, some privately owned, others public property, curve along the state parkland next to the Niagara River. Mayor Paul A. Dyster noted the stark contrast between properties that have been developed and those that have not.

The News has written extensively not only about the City of Buffalo’s welcome resurgence but about signs of progress in Niagara Falls – new hotels built or planned, the Rainforest Café, upgrades to the Seneca Niagara Casino and reinvestment in the state park, to name a few.

But the governor believes his Strategic Land Acquisition Program will create new possibilities. The program would use state taxpayer dollars to purchase the properties, then find other interests to do the development work.

In addition to targeting vacant or underused parcels close by Niagara Falls State Park, properties considered “significant” in other parts of the city would be included, according to an Empire State Development Corp. spokeswoman.

Dyster is hoping that the state’s involvement will prove enticing to speculators who have been holding onto land for years.

The designated area includes properties on Rainbow Boulevard, Buffalo Avenue and Main Street, in addition to Second and Third streets. That could include the long-closed turtle-shaped building owned by New York City developer Howard Milstein’s Niagara Falls Redevelopment.

The Turtle is just one of hundreds of properties owned by Niagara Falls Redevelopment in the city. NFR for years has refused to do anything with the properties, or to sell to someone who will.

The combination of state money and some political persuasion should be given the chance to break the logjam. The next stage in rejuvenating Niagara Falls is at stake.

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