I am being sued.
By a man named David Cordish, of Baltimore, Md.
He is suing me and this publication for libel -- which is, as readers know, the deliberate, malicious publication of lies intended to damage a person's reputation. Of the 240 paragraphs I wrote in various articles about Cordish, he and his attorneys found one paragraph that
was inaccurate, although it was not intentionally published as an untruth.
We will get to that paragraph in a moment, but first I want to write a word or two on Cordish himself.
Cordish is reported to be a billionaire and he has borrowed billions of other people's money. I would like to remind our readers, however, that a billion dollars in debt isn't necessarily a billion dollars in wealth.
Cordish -- the big-time developer -- entertains vice presidents, hobnobs with governors and persuades mayors of various cities to give him taxpayer money in return for his promises to develop something grand.
Donald Trump sued Cordish for allegedly misleading the Seminole Indians and using Trump's name in the deception. Cordish was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, and the Seminole Indians claimed that Cordish misled them.
None of this perspective of the "billionaire" was mentioned in my articles or led to his lawsuit.
I wrote mainly that Cordish is a do-nothing developer in Niagara Falls.
I wrote that Cordish has broken nearly every promise he made here.
That he has been unfair to the people here and has used his name and fame and influence and ability to outsmart small-town politicians to repeatedly sucker this town.
And that he squats ignobly on two of the most important properties in Niagara Falls.
I wrote specifically that the people of this city built a mall for him in return for his promise that he would faithfully operate it as a first-class mall. And that that mall has been vacant for a decade -- although reading Cordish's website you would hardly know it, since he posts an undated but 25-year-old quote from a dead mayor -- Michael O'Laughlin -- that the Rainbow Mall "was public/private partnership that worked to perfection."
I wrote that, in 1982, the city came up with the money to build the mall and that Cordish, one assumes, came up with nothing at all, but got a foolish city to give him a 75-year super-low-rent lease based on his promise. Cordish let the mall fall into gradual disrepair and vacancy.
By 2001, the mall was empty. Cordish virtually squats on the now-derelict mall we built for him.
If Cordish paid fair market rent, he would be paying more than $2 million per year for the 200,000-plus-square-foot mall. But thanks to the horrendous deal we made with him, he pays an annual rent of about $100,000.
Since he pays so little rent, he can afford to keep the mall vacant, creating an impression for visitors and locals alike of a downtown in decay, while he waits for someone to come along and buy his lease out for big bucks.
In fact, a third of the mall is being considered for the Niagara County Community College's proposed Culinary Arts Institute.
The irony would be almost comical, if it weren't such bad business. The city owns the property and leases it to Cordish. Cordish is in probable violation of his lease and pays almost no rent. Now the city is negotiating with Cordish over buying from Cordish -- for big money -- its own property!
I also wrote in my articles about "Parcel 4." Once it was a municipal parking lot used mostly by tourists visiting the falls. In the 1990s, when parking prices were $3.50 instead of $10, the property earned more than $140,000 per year.
The city sold Parcel 4 in 1997 to Cordish for $145,000 -- a price equal to one year's income, about 10 percent of its market value -- on the promise that Cordish would build a 10,000-square-foot commercial development building there.
The agreement was later modified to allow him to develop a magnificent helium balloon ride and upscale entertainment center.
After the approval, the project was downscaled. The live stage he promised, the seating, the food, the beverage bars, the shade trees and landscaping never occurred. Even the balloon ended up being much smaller and required no investment by Cordish at all. He merely allowed tenants to put up the money to buy a small tethered balloon and install it on the scrubby lot with a makeshift trailer for an office.
Last year, long after the balloon ride went bust, Cordish signed a lease with tour bus operator John Guido, ostensibly to operate a bus turnaround, amusement rides, and souvenir and food stands.
If the site plan is executed, of which there is some doubt, it is a far cry from what was promised by Cordish. A couple of summertime rides provided by some out-of-town carousel operator -- at no cost to Cordish -- was not the deal.
Meanwhile, Cordish's tenants, Guido and businessman Lou Antonacci, have converted, at least for now, almost the entire site to an illegal, gravel, paid parking lot -- which, in effect, changes the site plan without Planning Board approval.
One has to laugh at the irony, if it were not so dishonest. Cordish got our profitable municipal parking lot at a steep discount on his promise he would develop it, and 13 years later, we have lost millions in parking revenue, there is still no development, and it is a paid parking lot again. But this time Cordish gets the profit.
Among the many truthful points I made about Cordish being a bane to our town, one paragraph I wrote contained, as I said, a genuine mistake.
The reader has the right to have the facts, since readers are necessary for any libel lawsuit. If you don't have readers, it can't be libel.
You be the judge.
I wrote Cordish received $2 million in New York state grant money to build a small movie theater next to the Parcel 4 property.
In Cordish's complaint, he said he never got the $2 million from the state. That was the claimed libel.
Admittedly, the report of the $2 million grant was a mistake.
The three newspapers in town all reported that Cordish got $2 million to build this so-called theater, actually a small room inside a souvenir store.
And Cordish never sued them.
Former governor George Pataki spoke of the $2 million grant to Cordish as evidence of the state's willingness to partner with private developers. Cordish never sued Pataki.
In fact, Cordish posted a press release on his own website, www.Cordish.com, that said he got the $2 million. It was perhaps to his advantage to make the world believe he got this money, since Cordish relies on getting cities and states to give him money.
And since it was on his website, reported widely in newspapers locally, and since the governor said so, I wrote that he got the money, but that he certainly did not spend anywhere near $2 million of state money on a tiny room inside a souvenir store. I wrote that I "suspected" he may have "siphoned" off some of the money.
Funny, Cordish was prepared to let the world believe he got $2 million from the state until I wrote about it. When I challenged the cost of construction of the theater, he suddenly wanted the world to know the truth -- that he did not get the money.
There is more to the story, of course, of how he applied, then claimed he got the grant money from the state in 2003, and how the state somehow determined that he should not get the money, in 2004.
Both state officials and Cordish told the public he got the $2 million.
No one afterward told the public he did not get it. Why? One would have thought that Cordish himself would be the first to stop misleading people and take if off his website.
But billionaires are funny that way.