Niagara Region Attractive to Hucksters Short on Funds, Long on Connections

Niagara County Republican Legislators voted to give a 16.9 acre site, with several brick buildings, to a friendly campaign contributor, for a discounted $50,700 price despite it being appraised for more than $285,000.

By Mike Hudson, The Niagara Falls Reporter

Land speculators need nothing more than a little bit of money and a lot of political clout to pick up valuable properties here in Niagara Falls, often for just pennies on the dollar.

Buffalo developer Mark Hamister picked up an acre lot in downtown Niagara Falls last year, agreeing to pay the city just $100,000 for a piece of prime real estate appraised at more than $1.5 million. (See related story). Politicians from Sen. Charles Schumer to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Sen. George Maziarz and Mayor Paul Dyster told the public the project was vital to the city and had to be started immediately.

The project is at least one year behind on its scheduled groundbreaking this spring.

And over in Lockport last week, a building company, R.B. Mac Construction, successfully bid $100,700 for a pair of county-owned parcels fronting on Davison Road and abutting the county golf course, a total of 83.7 acres appraised by Girasole Appraisers at $520,000.

The Republican-controlled county legislature approved the sale by a 10-4 vote that went along party lines, despite the fact that a higher bid of $153,000 was received and rejected, and, a little more than two years ago, a bid of $160,000 for just the front 16.9-acre parcel fronting Davison Road was turned away.

The more recent bid was submitted by Ryan and Greg Mulvey, brothers who are local businessmen. The earlier offer came in from Dr. Douglas McLeod, of Tacoma, WA., who “won” the property in an online auction staged by the county.

Why in the world would the city want to sell a million-dollar property for less than ten cents on the dollar? Why would the county want to sell real estate valued at $520,000 for $100,000 when it had received two higher bids in the previous 24 months?

Think about it. Say you were selling a car with a Blue Book value of $5,200 and one guy offered you $1,530 straight up, another guy offered you $1,600 just for the motor and a third guy offered you $1,000.

Unless that third guy was your brother-in-law, and maybe not even then, you’d take one of the other offers, right?

But not the Niagara County Legislature. Nobody at R.B. Mac is anybody’s brother-in-law, but Robert Burke, the company’s vice president, is active in GOP politics in Lockport and Niagara County and has donated cash to Republican political candidates.

Recently, the company was named general contractor for the construction of a vehicle and property storage facility for the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, with a $663,000 tab.

The county’s conditions for RB Mac are that the company will have five years to develop the 16.9 acres along Davison Rd.

The back acres are open, grassy land to the east, with some road frontage south of the Switzer Building.

The county’s sale terms are expected to allow either housing, mixed-use or retail development on the front parcel.

“If this was their own personal property, who would take a lower offer when there is a higher offer? Nobody,” said County Legislator Dennis Virtuoso (D-Niagara Falls). “We should find out what the property is worth. Then go back and sell it for market value.”

Republican Richard Updegrove, who has ties to R.B. Mac, argued the sale must go to R.B. Mac, since, even though their bid is lower, they were the only bidder who made the bid on deadline.

Legislator Jason Zona (D-Niagara) disagreed: “Are you kidding? If the tables were turned and the Republican campaign contributor came in late with a higher price, do you think that they wouldn’t be arguing the opposite, that ‘we have to look after the taxpayers and take the highest price?’ Who are they kidding?”

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