BY MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI
Development in downtown Niagara Falls remains at a snail’s pace, with Governor Andrew Cuomo unable to advance development projects or to grow the volume of tourists visiting the city. A prominent local developer argues that the Cuomo administration’s failure to spark private investment activity is because of the Seneca Nation’s remaining gaming exclusivity rights in Western New York, which the Nation purchased in a 2001 compact. For years developers have argued that tourism projects are harder to finance without a gaming component, stifling potential projects.
“Everything from a roller coaster theme park, to a convention class hotel, retail, nightclubs, all become harder to finance without a gaming component,” he explains. “If the Senecas were willing to sell their monopoly rights, you would see a construction boom overnight.”
Several prominent Western New York business leaders are calling on Governor Cuomo to buyout the Senecas’ remaining gaming exclusivity, which analysts value in the range of $650 million to $820 million. Such an arrangement would stop revenue sharing payments to the State, but could allow greater levels of tax collection from licensing agreements with new venues.
If the State is willing to write the check and negotiate a fair deal with the Senecas, it would enable other investment interests who have long been chomping at the bit to construct new Vegas style gaming venues that elevate the city as a tourist destination. Observers say that Niagara Falls Redevelopment and Delaware North Companies would each build their own casino venues within months of any deal brokered between the State and the Senecas.
The Seneca Party — the governing bloc that controls the Seneca Nation Tribal Council and the Seneca Gaming Corporation’s Board of Directors — is said to be backing the concept, but only if the State is willing to negotiate in good faith. The agreement would allow the Senecas to buildout the Niagara Falls venue without engaging in the massive borrowing that the Nation needed to construct it’s three initial venues. An $820 million transaction with the State would vastly strengthen the Nation’s liquidity position. Former President Barry Snyder, the Chairman of the gaming corporation and a revered longtime figure in Seneca politics, is likely to play a lead role in negotiations with the State, along with the Tribal Council’s Foreign Relations Committee.
“Cuomo would immediately land two major casinos in Niagara Falls, a win that will yield huge political capital at a time when he needs to retake control of his own narrative,” the developer says. “This would be great politics in a part of the state that is desperate for new jobs and visible signs of revival. This could create 2,500 to 4,000 new jobs overnight — that’s way more than Solar City for the same size investment.”
No formal negotiations between the Governor and the Tribal Council’s Foreign Relations Committee have yet been scheduled.