Niagara Falls

A commenter to the Spokesman-Review article on the convention center expansion suggested reading this article in Business Week about the failed economy of Niagra Falls in spite of being next to one of the nation’s best known tourist attractions:

There was a massive hangar-like convention center designed by Philip Johnson; Cesar Pelli’s glassy indoor arboretum, the Wintergarden, which was finally torn down because it cost a fortune to heat through the Lake Erie winter; a shiny office building known locally as the “Flashcube,” formerly the headquarters of a chemical company and now home to a trinket market. Once a hydropowered center of industry, Niagara Falls is now one of America’s most infamous victims of urban decay, hollowed out by four decades of job loss, mafia infiltration, political corruption, and failed get-fixed-quick schemes.

via The Fall of Niagara Falls – BusinessWeek.

There are numerous – and sad – yet surprising parallels between Niagra Falls and Spokane (including Spokane Falls too!).  Read the whole story.

It’s the product of a machine that has for decades been running on unfulfilled promises, from the public and private sector alike, just whirring on in an endless cycle of dashed hope and failed deliverance.

Their failure, like where Spokane seems to be treading[1], is a focus on real estate related development. What Spokane needs is a comprehensive research university, not so much the staff it provides, but for the high achieving, ambitious students it would attract and which would become leaders in a local industry based on creativity and innovation.

Footnotes

[1] After studying the data as a hobby since early 2009, I have unfortunately reached the conclusion that Spokane has not been moving ahead for 30+ years. The chart showing declining incomes relative to the nation for 30 years is a concise summary of all local actions over three decades. Read all the economic plans – they all say the same thing, reach the same conclusion I did, and make the same recommendations.  Numerous big employers have left town and have not been replaced.

The question remains why? The Niagra Falls article suggests powerful interests own much of the prime land in town, and that the  local newspaper admits to using its influence in support of its biggest local advertisers, who some allege are deliberately driving down property values, with a long term plan to buy it up for cheap.

Could this be a factor in Spokane? I have no idea but there are numerous similarities. We are certainly not in the situation that Niagra is in today. But the situation in Spokane is odd. Like Niagra Falls, the failed plans and dreams trace back to real estate interests and preservation of heritage capital.  Much of what I have seen in Spokane revolves around property development interests (mostly in the downtown area) – and not the interests of creating 21st century innovation-based businesses. Property is frequently made more valuable to the owner through taxpayer funded local improvements that provide enormous benefit to a few land owners and minor benefits to the individual taxpayers that pay for these improvements.

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