In recent weeks Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly said that the economy is unlikely to “just bounce back” from the COVID-19 pandemic shut down. He has been arguing that the government will need to “think big” in efforts to rebuild and “supercharge” the economy — and he’s tasked Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul for architecting such a plan for Western New York.
Business leaders are hoping that Hochul will deliver — and that Niagara Falls will be a bold, ambitious focal point for the administration — but there’s been a dearth of information coming from her office in recent days, worrying some.
Cuomo is thinking beyond the process of stabilizing the public health crisis and is now focused on architecting an economic recovery.
“We’re going to need to stimulate the economy and government has a role to play in all of that. It always has,” Cuomo said. He says that ‘thinking big’ means building new airports, shoring up roads and bridges, and investing in mass transit and in new technology for education and telemedicine.
Cuomo met for 25 minutes with reporters at Jones Beach on Long Island — the Robert Moses-built state park was allowed to open for Memorial Day weekend. Cuomo pointed to the man-made beach as an example of the kind of ambitious project that New York has achieved in the past and should strive for again.
“This was all built. This was all marsh. This is seven miles of fill. They did it in three years, and it was a marvel,” he explained. “Let’s get that kind of ambition back. Let’s get that kind of optimism back.”
Here’s what area business leaders believe Niagara Falls needs to be respected as a world-class destination worthy of its name:
1. Two billion dollars worth of ‘tourism infrastructure’ in Niagara Falls.
The City of Niagara Falls has less capacity for events and entertainment than Syracuse — and Niagara is a world-renowned destination that has zero cultural attraction worthy of its name. The City badly needs an event center, cultural attractions (think Telsa Museum), theaters and performing arts centers, a pop culture art museum, and to fully fund the aquarium to make it a renowned destination and commands the attention of the global stage.
2. Monorail connection from Buffalo-to-Niagara Falls.
For the region to fully harvest the economic impact of Niagara Falls a global destination, better regional transit connectivity is a must. Not only does Western New York need better commuter rail service to Toronto, but downtown Buffalo and Niagara Falls also need to fill the long-obvious transit void. A 20-mile monorail between the two cities could be constructed more affordably than most other mass transit types, with stops the Buffalo Niagara Airport, the Walden Galleria, and the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.
3. Four-month sales tax holiday for retailers.
If the State of New York were to suspend its 4% retail sales tax for a period of several months, it could attract droves of Canadian shoppers and help area retailers gain back lost ground in the third quarter of the year.
4. Enhancing tax treatment of 2020 net operating losses for owner-operated restaurants and entertainment venues.
A minor tweak of the tax code could make 2020 net operating losses fully refundable for owner-operated restaurants and event venues.
5. Create a $10 billion State-owned private equity fund to accelerate the private-sector build-out of downtown Niagara Falls, by locally owned investment vehicles.
The New York State Pension Fund is valued at nearly $210 billion. The State could easily invest in itself and its people by launching private equity investment vehicles that are tasked with major economic development objectives — and very likely do so while delivering a higher return to pensioners — if only the Cuomo administration would empower the Pension Fund to create thousands of jobs. These types of investment vehicles have been powerful economic development strategies for sovereign wealth funds, like those in Norway, Saudi Arabia, China, and Abu Dhabi.