New Falls sculpture stirs taxpayer rage, praise despite the ‘optics’

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – As the City of Niagara Falls comes to grips with serious budget issues, critics are bashing the mayor and city lawmakers for spending city funds on a public sculpture costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Even some supporters of the project agree the “optics” are not looking good: a big gleaming steel fixture set at Centennial Circle while the city cuts services and personnel, including police jobs.

Beyond the optics, Mayor Paul Dyster got together with the State Greenway Commission, years ago, and came up with the idea of a big ultra-modern sculpture downtown. Then the sky fell in on the city’s finances.

The metallic sculpture stands about 30 feet high at the Centennial Circle–a roundabout at Rainbow Boulevard and First Street. So far, the art piece has not been given a title, but the Indiana artist who designed the sculpture has said it symbolizes a ribbon of water surrounded by two nations, the stripes of red, white, and blue representing their flags.

Nathan Pawlikowski, a Niagara Falls resident likes the idea of a modern sculpture in a downtown that needs some sprucing up, “We’ve just gotten all these hotels which is needed for tourists to stay here. I believe it is generally a good investment.”

But the timing for the sculpture might be off, with the cash-strapped City of Niagara Falls just recently cutting services and jobs. City Councilman Ken Tompkins is chief objector, although the project was already paid for by the time he took office.

“They didn’t even use local labor on that job putting it up. They didn’t call the union steelworkers, they didn’t call the union electricians. I know both of the heads over there. Both would have volunteered their time to put it in.”

Tompkins and other taxpayers believe Mayor Paul Dyster could have spent the money on better things, but Dyster and other defenders of the artwork point out, while the sculpture cost $619,000 the city’s portion was only about $85,000 and most of that was spent on infrastructure improvements.

Local business owner, Judi Mokhiber, owner of Ms. Judi’s International Cravings understands the impact on taxpayers but she also believes the sculpture will improve the city’s image.

“It shows to the world that Niagara Falls–the destination place–is with the times, forward thinking. To me it is a beautiful sculpture.”

The centennial sculpture was commissioned to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty, which was actually signed in 1909, between the United States and Great Britain—at the time Canada was a Dominion of the British Commonwealth.

The pact was designed to define how governments on both sides of the Great Lakes, and the Niagara River, would manage those valuable natural resources, and the sculpture is to be dedicated this summer by officials from both the U.S. and Canada.

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