And perhaps the most thriving business in Niagara Falls today, the Seneca Indian Nation's 10-year-old Seneca Niagara Casino, largely operates as an island with few surrounding businesses appearing to benefit from its estimated 7 million yearly patrons. For the past few years, the city hasn't even seen its promised share of slot machine profits — $58 million and counting — because the Senecas have withheld it as part of a feud with New York state.
Tourism was the city's main draw until the early 1900s, when the growth of numerous chemical plants fueled the rise of a hydropower-fueled industrial base. But industry started to lose steam in the late 1950s and '60s.
Meanwhile, the sister city of Niagara Falls, Ontario, made itself all about tourism, putting up hotels, restaurants, museums and other attractions, even as its New York counterpart was dealing with the 1970s toxic Love Canal contamination that caused the abandonment of an entire neighborhood.
Now the cash-strapped city finds itself in an awkward dispute as it tries to collect $25,000 from high-wire artist Nik Wallenda to cover public safety overtime expenses from his June 15 U.S.-to-Canada wire walk across Niagara Falls. Dyster says the state-approved legislation allowing the normally illegal walk entitles the city to reimbursement. Wallenda counters that he's already paid the state for security and that the city should take from there.
None is enough to discourage Nissa Morin, who hopes to get in on the tuition-residency program to help erase roughly $7,000 of her tuition debt. She has a bachelor's degree in music and sound recording from the State University of New York at Fredonia and is working on her master's degree in business administration from D'Youville College in Buffalo. She envisions establishing her own business in Niagara Falls, perhaps a recording studio or housing cooperative out of one of several old bed and breakfasts in need of rehabilitation in the downtown neighborhood chosen for the program.
The flow of tourists ensures businesses a potential customer base, she said, but Morin sees the need for more residents to enliven the area and spruce it up.
"How many times do you get the opportunity to come into a city and build the ideal neighborhood for yourself?"
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