It is a question that has dogged me and many others for several years. The last time I wrote about it, I received a warning letter from the taxpayer-paid lawyer who represented Jim Thibert in his lawsuit against me. So, I'll supply actual sources.
What happened to the $2 million that the province gave to the EDTC back in 2008?
It was April. 2008 when the province's Ministry of Tourism awarded $3 million in public money to the town's Economic Development and Tourism Corporation:
"- April 17, 2008: Sandra Pupatello, provincial Liberal minister of economic
development and trade, announces $3 million in funding for Fort Erie,
including $2 million to the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism
Corporation. No specifics projects were identified toward which the $2
million would be applied. "This investment is all about giving
Fort Erie the chance to compete not only regionally, but globally for
investment dollars," said Pupatello." (Source: Niagara Falls Review, May 10, 2008)
The announcement was made at a Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce Meeting at the Buffalo
Canoe Club on April 17, 2008 by then MPP Kim Craitor. One million of the money was set
aside to remove the east-north ramp off the QEW at Concession Road to "improve traffic flow
and help businesses attract customers."
(Editor's Note: This is where I believe the first lies about the money occurred)
From the article:
1.)"This funding will give Fort Erie the opportunity to explore long- term economic
goals that will create growth and jobs for our residents." (Kim Craitor)
2.) Jim Thibert, general manager of Fort Erie's Economic Development and Tourism
Corporation, said the funding will go a long way to provide them with the tools to
develop and build a "diversified economic infrastructure that will develop
Fort Erie as a great gateway community to the Niagara region."
3.) Martin said he could not provide any further details at this time as to how the
money will be used, but that they have "several ideas in mind."
The reason that I believe that the statements were lies was that it implied that the money
would go towards a number of projects that would help the community. Three weeks later, the
following announcement was made:
$ 2 Million in Public Money Headed to Track
(from May 10, 2008 article)
Actually, the $2 million was headed to "help" in costs associated with the redevelopment of the
Race Track into a $300 million dollar resort. The track owner, El-Ad and its subsidiary Nordic
Gaming received the offer from the EDTC on May 9, 2008.
Less than six months later, in October, 2008, the redevelopment plan is shelved. In an article
in Cangamble, the writer wondered what happened to the $2 million that was given to Nordic
Gaming by the EDTC.
The author also offers this opinion of the matter:
"I'm thinking this plan was a whim that was initiated by the Fort Erie's Economic Development and Tourism Corp(EDTC) shooting the crap with Nordic's management, and Nordic just went along with it, because it could help get a bigger sales price for Fort Erie Race Track, or maybe the government would be stupid enough to finance most of the project.
I'm starting to believe the EDTC and the Fort Erie mayor are either very gullible, very stupid, very corrupt, or a combination of the the three ... The reason I even bring up the EDTC is that they helped perpetuate this fantasy project, that was NEVER going to happen. The track could have been sold by now."
(Editor's Note: funny, this guy didn't get sued by Jim Thibert.)
So, the search for what happened to the $2 million went on. Then, in January 2009, came the announcement by Jim Thibert that the EDTC had offered to buy the track for $35 million. (Oh, and by the way, he expected the province to provide $3.2 Million towards a deposit to Nordic Gaming and El-Ad while it also holds the mortgage on the property.)
Later in the article, it was reported that Nordic was losing $7 million per year on the track.
Back to Cangamble for a partial explanation. In a reprint of a letter by Sue Leslie, President of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association wrote that the offer to Nordic included a $2, 250,000 NON REFUNDABLE DEPOSIT.
Part of the agreement would mean that there would be 78 days of racing in the 2009 season starting the first Saturday in May.
The article went on to say that the province would have to approve using the remaining $1.5 million from the $2 million given in 2008 towards the NON REFUNDABLE down payment.
(This is where I opined that the whole thing sounded like an elaborate scheme to "buy" another season for the race track - rather than a real offer to buy. Cue another letter from the lawyer.)
So, what happened? By February 2009, Fort Erie Town Council voted to give $250K of slot revenues towards the NON REFUNDABLE DEPOSIT towards the purchase of the Fort Erie Race Track. And in March, 2009, Jim Thibert made the announcement that the EDTC had reached an agreement with Nordic Gaming that included a "letter of intent" to purchase the race track.
"Talks between the parties appeared to reach an impasse in late February, when Nordic Gaming announced the EDTC had withdrawn its offer. The EDTC responded by saying the company had allowed a modified proposal to expire...
The EDTC has provided the company with a $2.25-million, non-refundable deposit on the deal, which allows the racing season to go ahead even if an agreement to buy the track doesn’t.
The money for the down payment includes $1.5-million of a $2-million economic development grant the province gave the town last year. The Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, an industry association which represents horse owners and trainers, contributed $500,000, while the town budgeted $250,000 toward the deposit." (Niagara Falls Review, March 12, 2009)
The EDTC had 90 days to come up with a business plans and financing to complete the sale.
In September 2009, the EDTC had worked out a deal to lease the race track. In the announcement, Jim Thibert asked for $15 million yearly from the province to keep the track going. MPP Kim Craitor supported the proposal. He also stated that leasing the track was the better way to go.
We'll leave it there for now. At least we were able to "follow the money" from the province. It ended up in the coffers of Nordic Gaming (El-Ad) via a byzantine production directed by Jim Thibert to keep the track running for another year.
It did not go towards attracting "investment dollars" or any of the things promised by the province. In the hands of Jim Thibert of the EDTC, it went straight to the foreign track owners as tribute. While it helped save many jobs at the track, we still don't appreciate having our credibility mocked by such an elaborate ruse.
As to why I'm dredging this up now, it is quite clear that the mayor and Jim Thibert have their own agenda and that agenda does not always include the very people who, through taxes, pay their salaries and give them millions of dollars in trust. Do we really want to have another four years of this? While others blame the four councillors for what ails Fort Erie, here is an example of something that happened before 2010 when the balance of power on council shifted away from Martin and his minions.
Things were going well in Fort Erie in 2002, according to a media release from the town. Jim Thibert had been on the job for about a year.
And then the decline began. Some could say that the decline was ushered in by Jim Thibert, although that would not be accurate. Just as it is not accurate to blame four councillors for the further decline of the town.
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