When Paul A. Dyster ran for the seat of Niagara Falls mayor in 2003, the former arms control negotiator thought his background would be effective in tasks like finding common ground with unions representing city employees: “I’m good at bringing people together who think they have irreconcilable differences,” is how he put it.
The jury is still out on whether he offered an accurate prediction but, now after three terms, it is clear that Dyster’s contributions have been substantial. He chose not to seek a fourth term.
The man who landed in Niagara Falls had an unlikely resumé: he was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and, yes, served as an arms control negotiator. In that high-stakes position, he represented the State Department at the START nuclear and space disarmament talks with the former Soviet Union in 1988. He ran a Pentagon graduate program in diplomacy for Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
By then, he and his wife owned and operated a Kenmore company that supplied beermaking and winemaking equipment and ingredients to hobbyists and microbreweries. The future mayor would also become a nationally certified beer taster and judge.
Niagara Falls voters entrusted him with the mayor’s seat in 2008 and over the course of three terms, he began transforming a long-dormant city that had been mismanaged to the point of squandering a world-famous tourist attraction. Developers didn’t want to touch it, and when they did dare to venture in, they ran out as fast as they could.
Dyster, a former councilman and environmentalist, spent the past 12 years working to turn the city around and the result has been conspicuous. Although many seemingly intractable issues continue to require pushing and pulling, this mayor has loosened the grip that failure held the city.
Violent crime has declined significantly. With the state’s muscle, the road that used to be called the Robert Moses Parkway is being demolished to make the gorge easily accessible, benefiting both residents and visitors. The work is opening new development opportunities on Whirlpool Street.
The city’s new Amtrak station opened in 2016 and a makeover of Main Street is in the works. The state has awarded Niagara Falls a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is a regular fixture in the Falls.
At least 30 projects are being considered for a piece of the $10 million. Four of them are renovations of buildings owned by Blue Cardinal Capital of Buffalo, which spent $3.2 million in June to purchase 38 parcels on and near Main Street.
That work is, in part, a product of the removal of the parkway. Without that, both Dyster and Blue Cardinal’s managing partner said the work around Main Street could not have happened. And while the state is the force behind the parkway’s removal, that project was Dyster’s vision when he entered politics as a City Council candidate in 1999.
Niagara Falls still has a long way to go. Its budget is overly dependent on Seneca Casino revenues which are – for the moment, at least – nonexistent, as the Senecas refuse to abide by their contractual obligations.
Dyster has proven to be a visionary leader. He could see the big picture and translate it into action that has begun to transform the city. He left the place better than he found it, and then some. We wish him well.