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Public outcry prompts city to rebid Chilton apartments

MY MIKE HUDSON

Niagara Falls – In a bow to public outrage and basic human decency, the Dyster administration has announced a do-over, and will hold a public auction for a four-unit apartment building at 631 Chilton Ave.

The 3,160 square foot building, which has assessed value of $37,261 and comes with its own $40,000 rehabilitation grant, was sold for $500 to Karen Mock, a Buffalo real estate broker who also happens to be a member of Mayor Paul Dyster’s Healthy Community Committee.

There were many irregularities surrounding the sale. The only public notice given by the city was a single tiny legal advertisement in the Niagara Gazette that didn’t even say the property was for sale but instead announced a “request for proposals.”

As far as can be determined, the only person to have seen this ad was Ms. Mock, who submitted the lone bid of $500.

The whole thing really started to unravel after the Niagara Gazette published the fact that Joseph Gullo, a science teacher from Erie County, stepped forward to say that repeated inquiries he’d made about acquiring property as far back as last April were ignored by city officials.

631 2As series of investigative articles about the deal in this newspaper may have helped to prompt Niagara Falls Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo to deny that Ms. Mock had any special advantage in acquiring the property, downplay her relationship with Mayor Dyster, and claim that the multiple emails Mr. Gullo sent about acquiring the property must have been mistaken as spam by the city’s computer system.

The decision to cancel the deal with Ms. Mock came on the heels of a meeting between Mr. Piccirillo and members of the Chilton Avenue Block Club in which the resident group demanded the property be rebid.

Mr. Piccirillo had previously stated he would abide by the decision of the block club as to whether or not the property would be rebid or sold to Ms. Mock for $500.

areal chi8ltonBlock club mmbers told Mr. Piccirillo that preference should be given to bidders who would live in the building, for the structure to be converted to a two-unit [it is a four-unit now] and that there actually be public advertisement of the property, that includes mention of the $40,000 renovation grant and the availability of federal historic district tax credits.

Chilton, along with neighboring Orchard Parkway were designated a two-block historic district through the initiative of the Dyster administration in 2009. Mayor Dsyter lives on Orchard Parkway.

The Chilton Avenue deal wasn’t Ms. Mock’s first experience with buying property from Mayor Dyster and the city. In 2013, members of the Niagara Falls City Council unanimously approved the sale of a city-owned property at 435 Memorial Parkway to Ms. Mock, again for $500.

That seven-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath brick structure has an assessed value of $44,047.

Untitled-2The decision to rebid the Chilton Avenue property begs the question: How can a city as impoverished as Niagara Falls afford to be giving away properties assessed at $37,000 or $44,000 for token payments $500?

435 Memorial Parkway was purchased by Karen Mock from the city for $500.

In the case of Buffalo developer Mark Hamister, a prime downtown parcel appraised at $1.5 million was offered for $100,000 for a upscale hotel. More than two years after the proposed deal was inked, the project has not commenced and is well past the original deadline for starting construction. At the time Mayor Dyster urged the council to act quickly since the Hamister hotel deal was imperative to the development of the city and any delay in approving the deal might delay the hotel construction and its infusion of more than 100 new jobs.

The hotel was later downgraded to a mid scale Hyatt Place and the jobs were downgraded to less than 40 full time equivalent positions, many of  which are in housekeeping and maintenance.

Giving away the store has taken on new meaning under Mayor Dyster’s administration. More and more city employees are joining the $100,000-a-year club and the city’s most important asset – real estate – is being let go for a song.

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