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Subject: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
Purp 1
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Date Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 10:44:15am
Author Host/IP: cpe-74-70-140-50.nycap.res.rr.com/74.70.140.50

The last time officials in Niagara County considered investing tens of millions of dollars in public funds to build an arena in downtown Niagara Falls, county lawmakers hired a professional consultant with years of experience to determine if the project made sense.

That consultant — Minneapolis-based Conventions Sports & Leisure — concluded the timing wasn’t right in 2017 for the city to build an arena.

Instead, the consultant recommended the city wait at least another six years for more attractions to come online and more hotel space to be available before considering the project again.

It has now been nearly five years since the consultant released its 48-page report and city officials who are interested in building an arena as part of Mayor Robert Restaino’s proposed $150 million Centennial Park project say enough has changed for the better in the local market to justify the potential public investment.

However, they have not hired an outside expert to take a second look at factors similar to those examined by the county’s arena consultant five years ago.

Those factors included potentially important details related to the long-term viability of any such facility, including competition from similar venues within nearby and similar-sized markets, regional demand and potential annual and long-term costs for operation.

Supporters of Centennial Park, including Restaino, who has been the project’s biggest advocate, contend that now is not the time to examine what it might cost to run Centennial Park or the arena that is planned to be part of it.

That’s because, as they note, the city still doesn’t have the funding or the land in place to get the project off the drawing board.

Restaino believes Niagara Falls has too often and for too many years been bogged down by analysis and studies. He maintains that the city needs more action, which, he said, is part of the reason why his administration initiated eminent domain proceedings against Niagara Falls Redevelopment, a company that owns 140 acres downtown and hasn’t done much with it in 25 years, and counting.

“The city has decided that, quite frankly, we can’t wait anymore time for them,” Restaino said.

The mayor said he’s focused on gaining “site control” of 12 acres of NFR land for Centennial Park because he’s been told by state officials that the project has a better chance of obtaining state funding if the city owns a chunk of real estate large enough to accommodate it.

More refined project details, like estimates on potential expenses and revenues, will be examined later in the development process, according to Restaino.

“We’ve had 25 years of nothing,” Restaino said. “We can continue with 25 years of nothing or we can change to do some things that are different than everyone is use to.”

PRIOR STUDY’S COST ESTIMATES

Still, CSL’s 2017 arena analysis determined that it could be potentially costly for the City of Niagara Falls to operate an arena or events center if it ever did secure funds needed for construction.

CSL’s five-year-old report considered two potential options for running a “multi-use hybrid venue” that could accommodate crowds of between 4,000 and 6,000 people.

The “tenant model,” which would involve at least one anchor tenant such as Niagara University’s hockey or basketball programs, had the potential to attract 108 events and 184,500 attendees per year, according to the consultant’s report.

That option came with an annual financial loss estimate of $261,000.

The “non-tenant model,” which considered an arena that did not have an anchor tenant such as NU, had the potential to attract 98 events and 148,250 attendees per year, the consultant’s determined.

That option, according to CSL’s estimates, had the potential to run at nearly double an annual operating loss at $482,000 per year.

Could cash-strapped Niagara Falls afford to operate a venue with the potential to lose that kind of money on an annual basis?

Council Chairman John Spanbauer, who has voiced support for Restaino’s Centennial Park plan and voted in favor of pursuing eminent domain against NFR to help make the project a reality, doesn’t think so.

If the city does end up building an arena as part of Centennial Park, Spanbauer said he believes success for the operation would be defined by reaching a break-even point where the city would be covering its cost while not losing money year after year.

To do that, he believes it will be necessary for the city to secure a tenant, or maybe multiple tenants, referencing NU and the Seneca Nation of Indians as possibilities. Restaino’s administration has also said NU might be interested in holding games inside a new venue downtown. The Seneca Nation has endorsed the Centennial Park concept in a letter to city hall.

“The ideal situation would be a public-private partnership,” Spanbauer said.

If Centennial Park and its arena do get built, Spanbauer said the city may also need to hire a private firm with expertise in running event centers to oversee operations.

“I don’t think the city should be involved in operating the arena. I think w’d have to do it as a contracted service,” he said.

CLOSER EXAMINATION?

Councilman Donta Myles, a frequent critic of Restaino’s administration and the lone councilman who has voiced concerns about pursuing eminent domain against NFR and pursuing construction of Centennial Park, said he can’t understand why the city would consider spending tens of millions of dollars on an arena and park without having a better understanding of what the potential long-term costs to taxpayers might be.

“There’s no numbers,” Myles said. “There are no numbers of what will this bring in, how much it is going to cost us, what type of affect it is going to have over the next five, ten, 15 or 20 years.”

John Christison, a consultant with more than 40 years of experience in the arena business who is the president of Buckley-Christison International and a senior consultant with Columbia Hospitality, said it “just makes really good sense” for communities to do their due diligence before investing large amounts of public money into arenas or event centers.

“It deserves adequate study before you just go out and start moving full force on something like this,” Christison said.

Christison said firms like CSL have the experience to perform assessments to determine the “realistic” needs of any such facility. He noted that there are a lot of factors involved in arena development, including size and cost of the facility, plans for public or private operation and municipal bond rating, which impacts how expensive it is for communities like Niagara Falls to borrow money needed for large-scale construction projects.

“The real question is can anybody manage it successfully to the benefit of the community? Is it going to a plus or a financial drain?” he said.

POTENTIAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT

The Centennial Park concept, as proposed by Restaino’s administration, envisions not just an arena but also an outdoor amphitheater, a wall-climbing adventure course and space for additional activities and parking.

Supporters say the reasons for pursuing the project involve more than pure dollars and cents.

Dan Spitzer, an attorney with Hodgson Russ, the private law firm Restaino’s administration hired to represent the city during the eminent domain proceedings against NFR, acknowledges that the city has not closely examined a high level of detail in terms of operation of an arena.

What it has done, he said, is determine that the Centennial Park concept could address the need for additional recreational options for city residents while providing visitors from out of town with more things to see and do in the Falls.

“When you build a park for your community, your focus is not on profit,” Spitzer said.

Lack of attractions downtown was one of the shortcomings identified by the consultants that generated the 2017 arena report. For many years, it has also been identified as one of the biggest concerns by local hotel and restaurant owners and others involved in the tourism business.

Potential long-term costs aside, city council Chairman Spanbauer said he supports the Centennial Park concept because he believes it could offer a lot of ancillary benefits. He said an arena with an anchor tenant like NU or the Seneca Nation that regularly hosted sporting events, concerts and other activities would help drive traffic downtown, which would benefit hotels, restaurants and other businesses that pay taxes.

“Those are all things that get people coming into the area,” he said.

Spitzer said Restaino’s administration has focused on the 12 acres of NFR land located at the intersection of 10th and Falls streets because it is former recreational space that is centrally located downtown.

The property, just off John B. Daly Boulevard, is the former site of what was known as 10th Street Park. It ceased serving as a park after the property was acquired by NFR. In 2005, the company proposed a $12 million “hospitality, entertainment and retail” complex at the site. The project never materialized.

“This property’s been vacant for a long time,” Spitzer said. it was a park in the past and now it’s being rehabilitated for that purpose if the project moves forward.”

Spitzer said it is “premature and inappropriate” to suggest the city is taking on liability at this stage of Centennial Park’s development, noting that, despite the ongoing eminent domain proceedings, the city has not yet committed any funds to purchase NFR’s property nor has it allocated dollars for the park’s construction. According to Spitzer, the city would have two years from receiving court approval to follow-through on the land acquisition.

“Merely approving the taking is in no means a commitment of funds,” Spitzer said.

Councilman Myles notes that the city has already incurred some costs for pursuing eminent domain, including fees being paid to Spitzer’s law firm. Myles fears the process, depending on how it plays out, has the potential to cost the city millions of dollars more in the future.

“Right now, it’s just being brought to us as an idea,” Myles said. “There’s no real teeth in how much it’s going to cost the citizens of Niagara Falls.”

The next step in the eminent domain process takes place tonight when the city council holds a second public hearing on the Centennial Park project. The hearing begins at 6 p.m. and will be held inside council chambers at city hall, 745 Main St.

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Replies:
[> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
NUSuperfan
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Date Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 11:33:22am
Author Host/IP: 71-214-4-212.orlf.qwest.net/71.214.4.212

Aw, just give it another 100 years. Niagara Falls could have been so much better than it is currently. Unfortunately, it never will be anything more than it is today.

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[> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
Maldez
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Date Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 03:27:16pm
Author Host/IP: cpe-24-59-42-147.twcny.res.rr.com/24.59.42.147

There's never going to be an arena in downtown Niagara Falls...it's that simple.

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[> [> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
NUSuperfan
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Date Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 01:07:20pm
Author Host/IP: 71-214-4-212.orlf.qwest.net/71.214.4.212

There's nothing left in Niagara Falls that even calls for an arena. Reasons: Low Major basketball and hockey programs, a dangerous crime riddled city, no minor league pro hockey/basketball teams. No proven track record to show that the City could even draw a profit or even break even in such endeavors. Small population that is more interested in the Bills and to a lesser degree, the Sabres.

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[> [> [> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
Maldez
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Date Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 05:38:30pm
Author Host/IP: cpe-24-59-42-147.twcny.res.rr.com/24.59.42.147

I agree, Soup...you're right for all the reasons you mentioned, and there's probably more.

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[> [> [> [> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
Purp 1
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Date Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 06:46:41pm
Author Host/IP: cpe-74-70-140-50.nycap.res.rr.com/74.70.140.50

You know, I think there is a need for a convention facility to aid the casino which can be large enough to accommodate hockey and basketball, however how long before people start hating it and wanting to go back to campus remains the key question for me.

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[> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
RCM
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Date Posted: Thursday, September 08, 05:31:37am
Author Host/IP: a172-226-205-78.deploy.static.akamaitechnologies.com/172.226.205.78

NU hockey averaged 389 people last season.

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[> [> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
Maldez
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Date Posted: Thursday, September 08, 06:55:39am
Author Host/IP: cpe-24-59-42-147.twcny.res.rr.com/24.59.42.147

Let's build a 500 seat arena.

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[> [> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
Purp 1
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Date Posted: Thursday, September 08, 11:48:28am
Author Host/IP: cpe-74-70-140-50.nycap.res.rr.com/74.70.140.50

It's not being imagined for NU sports per se, but offers that option if desired. I don't see sports being the attraction as much as other events. For example, everyone has been bitching for the other side of the Dwyer with seats. With 389 people per game, what's the goal? To have an empty side to look at during the game?

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[> Subject: Re: At this rate I'll never see Centennial Park


Author:
RCM
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Date Posted: Thursday, September 08, 04:01:21pm
Author Host/IP: rrcs-208-125-165-66.nys.biz.rr.com/208.125.165.66

Purp...I agree...I think redevelopment of that area would be awesome...

But if the D1 team draws 389 what would the the other team in the area draw? I dont know.

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