Frank Parlato Jr. demands rights equal to those of the Senecas.
NIAGARA FALLS — A meeting by local business owners Monday to protest the tax-free Seneca Indian Nation turned into a rousing patriotic rally of “Americans” demanding equality with a “foreign nation.”
“This is not an anti-Seneca meeting; it’s a pro-American meeting,” businessman Frank Parlato Jr. told a gathering of people on the first floor of his One Niagara building near the Rainbow Bridge.
With a backdrop of American flags and a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, Parlato began the meeting with the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with him on keyboard.
The meeting of about 50 business owners and residents grew to about 100 people when tourists visiting Parlato’s food court began milling about.
When Parlato asked the gathering crowd, “Should Americans have equality with the Senecas?” he received resounding applause and hollers of approval.
Tommy Ryans restaurant, a downtown landmark for more than 20 years, is shutting down in two weeks, another casualty of the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel and its half-dozen restaurants, said Tom Hanna, the owner.
Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo
Seneca Niagara Casino is focus of complaints by Niagara Falls businessmen.
“This city doesn’t give a damn about the local businessman,” Hanna said, noting that no member of the Niagara Falls City Council or city officials came to the meeting. “We have to get behind this man [Parlato] and do something about this situation.”
Parlato handed out petitions for the people to sign and fight against a “disastrous inequality that grants a person born a Seneca superior rights over Americans.” Parlato said he believes he will receive enough support to form an organization and take the protest to state officials in Albany.
Manuela Miller, of Niagara Falls, spoke for many when she told Parlato, “We commend you for holding this meeting, and we will follow you all the way to Albany.”
Parlato hammered home three main points: “The Senecas can open a casino, and we can’t. They pay no business tax, while other business owners are among the highest taxed in the nation; and they don’t need to comply with any building codes.”
Parlato said he plans to soon unveil half a dozen slot machines in his One Niagara building as part of his protest.
The Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, a $450 million tourist attraction that has raked in millions of dollars since opening nearly six years ago, pays no city, state or federal taxes and no property tax. Under an agreement with the state, the Seneca Nation pays a percentage of the slot machine revenues from its three gambling operations — in Salamanca, Buffalo and Niagara Falls — to the state. The payout began at 18 percent and increases incrementally to a maximum of 25 percent over several years, and the state gives one-quarter back to the host communities.
The City of Niagara Falls keeps the majority of its share and distributes the rest to half a dozen entities in Niagara County, including the Niagara Falls School Board and Memorial Medical Center.
But the “handouts” are a pittance of what the Senecas rake in at the casino and hotel, Parlato said.
“When people come to Niagara Falls, they stay in the tax-free Seneca hotel and eat in the tax-free restaurants without spending a dime in the City of Niagara Falls,” he said. “This transfer of wealth to the Senecas is sheer lunacy. The Senecas never occupied Niagara Falls, so we owe them nothing. The Senecas are nothing more than a foreign nation, and we shouldn’t give a foreign nation the right to have more than our own children.”
Niagara Falls resident Dana Shank rallied behind that cry.
“I’m here tonight with my two children,” she told the audience. “I don’t want them leaving this city to look for opportunity elsewhere. If we let this Seneca situation continue, there will be no city left.”