Faced with the threat of losing at least part of his long undeveloped land in Niagara Falls through eminent domain, New York City developer Howard Milstein and his partners are proposing to use it for a data center in hopes of staving off the city's legal effort to create a new public park.
After 25 years of essentially sitting on dozens of acres of prime land near downtown Niagara Falls, Milstein's Niagara Falls Redevelopment on Tuesday unveiled a $1.5 billion plan to create a technology and data center in the heart of the city.
The Cataract City and the Senecas are working on a plan that would locate a new downtown sports arena and family entertainment center a block east of the casino, Niagara Falls Mayor Robert M. Restaino said Thursday.
NFR said it is teaming up with Toronto-based Urbacon, one of the leading commercial and industrial real estate developers in Canada, to create a new Niagara Digital Campus as a data hub that it says will bring "cutting-edge technological infrastructure" and more than 550 high-paying jobs to the city, according to a statement issued during the mid-afternoon on a primary election day.
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The proposal got a cool reception from Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino, who questioned whether a technology and data center was the best use of land near a major tourist destination. And he raised doubts about the ability of NFR and its partner to deliver on its job promises.
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"It's not the best use for that property. That's a gateway into the city," Restaino said.
Developed primarily by Urbacon, the new campus would be located at the intersection of Rainbow and John B. Daly Boulevards, and would feature about 600,000 square feet of "high-security, technologically advanced data-center space."
The companies say the project would create 5,600 construction jobs, and would be among the largest private development initiatives in the city's history. They said it would generate over $250 million in construction wages and $810 million in economic spinoff.
And, they said, it would bring new infrastructure for high-speed broadband access for the community, as well as "considerable county, local and school board tax revenues."
The projected billion-dollar-plus investment is based on plans for 135 megawatts of power for the campus, and an industry average of $11 million in construction costs per megawatt of power. The companies said the total economic benefit from the project could exceed $250 million a year for the community.
“Our Niagara Digital Campus will be among the largest developments in Niagara Falls’ history, bringing jobs and high-tech opportunity that will benefit area residents for generations,” said NFR Executive Vice President Roger Trevino. “We have been in discussion with city officials for months and look forward to working closely with the city as we refine the plan – creating a campus that enhances and serves all members of our community.”
But that's not the way the city views it. Restaino said that the parties have been talking for more than a year, with nothing to show for it.
Restaino questioned what he called NFR's "generous" job creation projections, saying he visited Urbacon's Richmond Hill operation in a suburban industrial park, and saw only a handful of security guards and maintenance staff. And he noted that NFR’s property is not properly zoned for a data center, and said that such an operation would not be the best use for that location.
"They can talk about wanting to build something, but the zoning requirements down there wouldn't permit it," he said.
Indeed, NFR's proposal comes as Niagara Falls prepares to begin proceedings to take 12 acres of NFR's land at 907 Falls St., on the city's South End, for its planned new Centennial Park. The park, including an events center, would serve as a gateway to the city, just off the Niagara Scenic Parkway.
But NFR doesn't want to give up any of its land – even though it's less than 10% of the total land it controls, and Restaino said one of the NFR executives originally suggested the site to him in early 2021.
"It is shocking that all of a sudden they’re surprised," Restaino said. "We could talk endlessly, but eventually you get tired of talking and you have to do something. This makes the conversation more productive, because both sides know that there’s another track."