Some members of the Seneca Nation of Indians — including two influential elected officials — are calling on the Tribal Council to transform an underutilized six-story building in downtown Niagara Falls into a 120,000-sqft art gallery. A portion of that building currently serves as the corporate office of the Seneca Gaming Corporation and once housed a regional office of HSBC Bank.
Advocates of the proposal argue that the building is mostly empty and sits on the Nation’s sovereign 50-acre territory located a short walk from Niagara Falls State Park. The building is therefore immune from State sales taxes — which could be a huge competitive advantage in the world of high-end art sales. Auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s are subject to New York City’s 8.75% sales tax. On a multi-million dollar painting, that’s not a small cost.
Repurposing the space into a Museum of Contemporary Indigenous Art would give artists from across North America access to a large volume of tourists who already spend millions on souvenirs and Native American-themed trinkets (which are often manufactured in China and sold by street vendors).
“There is an enormous demand for contemporary high-end indigenous art both domestically and abroad in Asian, the Middle East, and European markets,” one supporter postulates. “This museum could make the Seneca Nation a leading international art dealer and would create a way for thousands of independent artists to sell their work product into that marketplace.”
Supporters of the project believe that the museum will generate between $12 million and $20 million on souvenirs, attendance tickets, and gift shop sales seasonally. An auction house could generate tens of millions more in dealer fees and sales commissions.
Some speculate that the Tribal Council may order the Seneca Gaming Corporation to vacate the structure so that its ownership can be transferred to the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, or to another Tribal instrumentality that could be tasked with managing the art business and related economic development strategies.
Supporters would like to see the gaming corporation’s corporate offices relocated into the meeting and conference spaces inside of the Seneca Niagara Casino. Those windowless spaces could instill a more austere and operations-oriented corporate culture among senior executives. Others would like to see the gaming corporation’s headquarters relocated to the Tribal Administration Building on the Allegany Territory in Salamanca to ensure stronger oversight and to implement more transparent corporate governance practices — like open and live-streamed board meetings.