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Civet Cat Coffee Brews Filipino Opportunity

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

In the Philippines, one animal’s call of nature has become a business opportunity.

The civet cat, a member of the mongoose family, ingests the fruit of coffee plants, and expels the beans. This has created an unexpected by-product – a prized beverage for the world’s savvy coffee drinkers seeking the next taste sensation. The partially digested coffee beans are gathered from the faeces of the cat and used to make a much-coveted, smooth-flavoured cup of coffee.

It is a good example of how value can be added to a product, in this case coffee beans, producing a substantially higher income. The coffee is startlingly expensive: 50 grams cost US $70, 100 grams US $90, and 1 kilogram is a whopping US $870. The coffee is a blend of Arabica, Liberica and Exelsa beans, all of which have passed through the civet cats.

The highly prized coffee is driving a growing market for these rare beans around the world. But as demand rises, it becomes clear it is a market needing quality control and ethical practices.

One business that is trying to do this is Coffee Alamid (www.arengga.com), based in Las Pinas in the Philippines. It bills the coffee as the “World’s Rarest Brew. The Philippines’ Pride.”

Coffee Alamid’s founders, Basil and Vie Reyes, call themselves “coffee entrepreneurs” who started in the business from scratch.

“When we started Cafe Alamid, we were not even coffee drinkers,” they explain on the company’s website. “We didn’t know anything about coffee at all!”

Experienced in making Arengga vinegar (http://www.arengga.com/index.php/arengga-pinnata-its-not-just-a-vinegar.mpc), they discovered the civet cats that lived among the sugar palm trees used for making the vinegar. They did some research and were inspired by the Kopi Luwak, the Indonesian variety of civet cat coffee and wondered why they couldn’t do the same thing in the Philippines.

They consulted with the local forest-dwellers of Indang, Cavite and Batangas, who confirmed they gathered the civet cat droppings to make into coffee, part for personal consumption, with the rest sold in local markets. Gathering the civet droppings provides an income to the forest residents, who collect an average of one kilogram a day.

Some were sceptical of the idea: why bother with such a time-consuming product? But the Reyeses were inspired by the success of civet coffee in Indonesia and it inspired them to try it in the Philippines. They see themselves as “enlightened entrepreneurs” who believe in marrying business with social development.

The coffee is made from the wild civet cat droppings harvested from the forest floors of mountains in Malarayat, Lipa, Batangas and Mount Matutum, General Santos and South Cotabato in the Philippines. The beans are roasted and exported to Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, the United States and Italy. The company produces between 1 and 1.5 tons of beans a year.

A proud moment for the business was becoming the first Filipino firm to participate in the Tea and Coffee World Cup in Geneva, Switzerland in 2007.

The brand’s name, Alamid, is the local name for the civet cat (Paradoxorus Philippinensis). It belongs to the mongoose family and forages for food at night, eating the ripest and sweetest coffee cherries during the coffee season.

By morning the civet cats excrete the undigested beans. While inside the cat’s stomach, enzymes and stomach acids go to work on the beans, altering their structure. The beans ‘ferment’ in the cat’s stomach, a process that has been analyzed by Dr. Massimo Marcone, a scientist from Canada’s University of Guelph.

Marcone traveled to Ethiopia and Indonesia in 2003 to collect the rare coffee beans. He found the beans’ taste – described as “earthy, musty, syrupy, smooth and rich with jungle and chocolate undertones” – was due to the lack of protein in the bean.

“The civet beans are lower in total protein, indicating that during digestion, proteins are being broken down and are also leaked out of the bean,” Marcone told the Luwak Kopi website. “Since proteins are what make coffee bitter during the roasting process, the lower levels of proteins decrease the bitterness of Kopi Luwak coffee.”

“Civet beans are typically extensively washed under running water after collection, which dislodges bacteria,” he said.

Marcone published his research into the beans in the paper “Composition and properties of Indonesian palm civet coffee (Kopi Luwak) and Ethiopian civet coffee.” (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996904001309)

The beans are greenish-brown when they come out in the cat faeces. Marcone found the process in the civet cat removes some of the caffeine, giving a strong cup of coffee less kick; this also makes the flavour smoother.

Supply is tight and this has led to some people forging the coffee or using unethical practices to get their hands on the beans. It is a business that needs to be run in an ethical way to ensure the rich profits are shared with everyone involved.

Marcone warns against imitations. “About 42 percent of all the kopi luwaks that are presently on sale are either adulterated or complete fakes, unfortunately,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Coffee Alamid’s parent company, Bote Central, started as a family-owned company in 2002, with the idea of using agro-forestry products to create sustainable livelihoods and help preserve the environment. It wanted to introduce Fair Trade principles to the Philippines coffee industry.

Structurally, the company uses community roasting business units (CRBU) across the Philippines, in particular the countryside, to improve the way coffee is sold and make it more profitable for local economies. There are currently 12 such units, and more are planned. The company has put together a guide book on best practice for harvesting Arabica coffee beans based on their first-hand experience. It also explains how they maintain quality control (http://www.scribd.com/doc/19991462/Production-Guide-for-Arabica-Coffee-by-Bote-Central-Inc-Maker-of-Coffee-Alamid).

The company deals directly with farmers to avoid middlemen gouging profits, and tries to use technology to make the business more efficient and sustainable.

To keep quality improving, the company has also produced a manual on how to grow and harvest Arabica coffee beans. It is designed to tackle the practical realities of coffee production and show how to improve current methods to produce a better-quality bean. This is critical for the overall business as competition is fierce and quality has to constantly be improved.

Coffee Alamid has successfully positioned itself as a high-end, high-cost product. It is sold by Japan Airlines and by department stores in Japan and specialty coffee shops around the world.

Civet cat coffee continues to develop new fans. In Britain, the Birmingham-based Urban Coffee Company (http://www.urbancoffee.co.uk) has started selling the coffee.

‘It’s actually really nice,” sales manager Mark Bridgens told the Daily Mail newspaper. “It has a unique, soft taste. I’d definitely buy a cup of it, it’s very different.”

Resources

1)Fair Trade Foundation: Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. Website: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/

2) The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognized quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design. Website: http://www.red-dot.de

3) Small businesses looking to develop their brand can find plenty of free advice and resources here. Website: www.brandingstrategyinsider.com

4) Brandchannel: The world’s only online exchange about branding, packed with resources, debates and contacts to help businesses intelligently build their brand. Website:www.brandchannel.com

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: June 2011

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JIKYBgAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+june+2011&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsjune2011issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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David South Consulting Books | 1997 – 2014

Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 5: Waste and Recycling, Editor and Writer: David South (ISBN 978-0-9920217-1-9) (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s fifth issue tackles the theme of waste and recycling in the global South. It has unearthed radical new ways to use the Earth’s resources while efficiently raising living standards for the world’s majority. Waste no longer needs to pile up and pollute the environment and communities; it can be a source of wealth and provide sustainable livelihoods.
 
Radical ways to alter how things are made, such as the production model called cradle-to-cradle, have the potential to meet human needs without harming the environment and human health. Effective use of renewable energy technologies and sources also could eliminate energy poverty in the global South, dramatically raising living standards and boosting human development.

“We are proud to present our first book entry in David South’s 5th Issue of the Southern Innovator Magazine. The general focus of this paper is to show the rise of the south as a strong economic power, this year’s issue is focussing on the dilemma of strong population growth and limited resources with the focus on waste and recycling issues for example the elephant dung paper production in Thailand, the banning of plastic bags in Uganda or the creation of green fashion in China.”NEEMIC

“@SouthSouth1 is one of the best sources out there for news and info on #solutions to #SouthSouth challenges.” Adam Rogers, Assistant Director, Regional Representative, Europe, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)

“Btw, I really enjoyed reading them, impressive work & a great resource. Looking forward to Issue 6. My best wishes to you & your team at SI.”

“… great magazine, nice design.”

On Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Designed in Iceland

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Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization, Editor and Writer: David South (ISBN 978-0-9920217-0-2) (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s fourth issue tackled the theme of cities and urbanization in the global South and how innovators are grappling with one of the biggest challenges of our time: the largest migration in history as the world becomes a majority urban place. Southern Innovator profiles new building technologies and innovative designs and also offers social solutions to make living urban better, while improving human development.

“I liked your latest Southern innovator! Always inspiring.” Joana Breidenbach, betterplace.org, Berlin, Germany

“The magazine looks fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!”

On Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Designed in Iceland

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Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security, Editor and Writer: David South (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s third issue tackled the theme of agribusiness and food security in the global South. It found innovators were proving it is possible to boost farm yields with new techniques that are not costly nor harmful to the environment. It also found the rise of new information technologies, such as mobile phones, offers unlimited options to make farming and food distribution more efficient, profitable and food secure. These information technologies can turn small-scale farmers into agribusinesses if applied correctly.

On Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Designed in Iceland

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Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship, Editor and Writer: David South (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s second issue tackled the theme of youth and entrepreneurship in the global South. It discovered a growing youth population across the global South and found a disconnect between the enthusiasm and talent of youth and their ability to connect with local economies. This was causing systemic unemployment among youth and wasting a great opportunity to spur growth and innovation in poor countries.
 
Southern Innovator chronicled various business models that were applicable to young entrepreneurs. Importantly, the business models have been proven to work in developing countries.

“Thank you David – Your insight into the issues facing us a “global Village” is made real in the detail of your article – 10 out of 10 from the moladi team.” Moladi: Building Communities

On Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Designed in Iceland

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Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology, Editor and Writer: David South (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Launched in May 2011, the new global magazine Southern Innovator profiles the people across the global South shaping our new world, eradicating poverty and working towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the innovators. It chronicles what has been called the Development 2.0 Revolution: the use of innovative new technologies to radically alter the dynamics of development.
               
Southern Innovator’s first issue tackled the theme of mobile phones and information technology in the global South. It identified mobile phone pioneers and transformative information technologies reducing poverty and boosting human development in the global South. It was one of the first publications to document and capture this trend.

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… Really looking forward to what you produce in issues #2 and #3. This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box

“Looks great. Congratulations. It’s Brill’s Content for the 21st century!” Conan Tobias, Managing Editor, Canadian Business

What they are saying about SI on Twitter: From “@CapacityPlus Nice job RT @ActevisCGroup: RT @UNDP: Great looking informative @SouthSouth1 mag on South-South Innovation; @UNDP Great looking informative @SouthSouth1 mag on South-South Innovation; @JeannineLemaireGraphically beautiful & informative @UNDP Southern Innovator mag on South-South Innov.”

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it” Peggy Lee on Pinterest 

On Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless (ISBN 1-55022-434-4): Covering the period of the late 1990s, with Mongolia embroiled in a major economic, social and political crisis, Wild East gives an insightful snapshot of life lived in a country undergoing significant turbulence.

“Jill Lawless’ book is not a scholarly tome per se, yet it is of definite value to the contemporary Mongolian scholar, because it captures a mood flushed out by anecdotal detail of a specific period – detail that only a resident, not a visitor, can really discover. Thus the book provides the researcher with all-important firsthand observations of key social and political events, which give life and context to historical analysis.

“Lawless’ period is 1997-1999, the heart of the tumultuous and ill-spent years of Democratic Coalition Government. These years, not fully representative of Mongolia in the 1990s, were a period of great hopes for democratic flowering and free market enterprise leading the nation to prosperity and progress. The pipe dream was dashed by the immaturity and selfishness of the Coalition party members. Still, those were heady years, and Lawless, as editor of the English language independent newspaper the UB [Ulaanbaatar] Post, was … “ Alicia J. Campi, Mongolian Studies, Vol. 25 (2002), pp. 112-114

“As Canadian journalist Jill Lawless points out in the introduction to this engaging portrait of modern Mongolia, the short version of the country’s history is simple: They came thundering out of nowhere, terrorized and conquered most of the known world, and then they went home.

It’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to imagine Mongol warlords at the peak of their power in the 13th century sitting around with Genghis Khan debating the merits of attacking Russia or sacking Burma. Within a space of a few decades they had subdued an area stretching from Korea to Hungary and Vietnam to Afghanistan.

But the empire of the Khan imploded and the world’s consciousness of these fascinating people, and the great grasslands and deserts of their homeland, faded as they disappeared for centuries under the iron-fisted domination of first China and then the Soviet Union.

In Wild East, Lawless brings us up to date. Yes, more than half the population of this Europe-sized country still lives on the steppes in felt tents with their horses, sheep and yaks.

But now you can surf the Internet in Ulan Bator, find Mercedes in the streets, party in Western-style nightclubs and see trendy teens rollerblading around Soviet-era apartment blocks.

Lawless gives us a revealing, and often amusing, account of her journeys through a beautiful country awakening from a tumultuous era that saw it wrenched from feudalism to communism and then into the uncharted future of rampant capitalism, searching for its future in the new millennium.” The Globe and Mail, Laszlo Buhasz, 25 November 2000 

Designed in Mongolia

Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson (ISBN 9992950137): The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook was published in 1999 and features the case studies and lessons learned by UNDP’s Mongolian Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP). The handbook draws on the close to 100 small environmental projects the Programme oversaw during a two-year period. These projects stretched across Mongolia, and operated in a time of great upheaval and social, economic and environmental distress. The handbook is intended for training purposes and the practice of public participation in environmental protection.

In its 2007 Needs Assessment, the Government of Mongolia found the EPAP projects “had a wide impact on limiting many environmental problems. Successful projects such as the Dutch/UNDP funded Environmental Awareness Project (EPAP), which was actually a multitude of small pilot projects (most costing less than $5,000 each) … taught local populations easily and efficiently different ways of living and working that are low-impact on the environment.” Many of these ideas live on in the work of both the World Bank and UNEP in Mongolia. 

Designed in Mongolia

Mongolian Rock Pop by Peter Marsh (ISBN 99929-5-018-8): In the Mongolian language, the book explores how Mongolia’s vibrant rock and pop music scene led on business innovation and entrepreneurship in the country during the transition years (post-1989). Written by an ethnomusicologist, it details the key moments and events in this story, while splicing the narrative with first-person interviews with the major players. 

David South, Editor-in-Chief, Julie Schneiderman, Research Editor.

Designed in Mongolia

In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999, Editor-in-Chief: David South, Research Editor: Julie Schneiderman (ISBN 99929-5-043-9): In their own words compiles by theme the vast number of stories and features by journalists on Mongolia’s transition experience from 1997 to 1999. A rich and unusual resource for a developing country, this book offers the reader a one-stop snapshot of how a country handles the wrenching social, political, cultural, economic and environmental challenges of changing from one political and economic system to another.

An excellent resource for scholars of austerity crises and for those seeking understanding on how to plot a path out of an austerity crisis. In particular, the collection of articles and stories show the impact austerity has on people and their lives. Unadorned by backward-looking historical narratives, these are accounts fizzing with the energy of the moment: a first draft of a tough time for most Mongolians. 

Read online at Google Books or visit the University of Toronto’s Library Catalogue: http://search.library.utoronto.ca/details?3403065

Designed in Mongolia

Mongolian Green Book by Robert Ferguson: In the Mongolian language, the book details effective ways to live in harmony with the environment while achieving development goals. Based on three years’ work in Mongolia – a Northeast Asian nation coping with desertification, mining, and climate change – the book presents tested strategies. 

Mongolia Update 1998 Book, Editor and Writer: David South, Researcher: G. Enkhtungalug: Whilst in Mongolia as head of the United Nations’ communications (1997-1999), I wrote an update on how Mongolia was coping with hyperinflation, shock therapy, austerity and the Asian economic crisis. The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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Southern Innovator And The GSSD Expo | 2011 – 2014

Beginning in 2011 and ending in 2014, each issue of Southern Innovator was launched at the annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) run by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC). The issues (there were five) would connect with that year’s Expo theme and were intended to reinforce the solutions presented at the Expo, as well as those solutions discovered through research for the influential United Nations e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions. An Expo was not run in 2015 for the following reason: U.S. Finds Macau Billionaire Guilty in U.N. Bribery Case

Studies have shown the importance of reading to real change. Not just online, but in paper form. The retention of information and knowledge is greater when a person reads something in a book or a magazine. Another factor is quality design (which makes the published material both attractive and effective). Trashy, gaudy or slap-dash design, while it has its place and context, is not suitable for well-funded, transparent, public organizations seeking to communicate across borders in a professional manner. Southern Innovator was designed following the UN and UNDP design guidelines at the time, while also adhering to the UN Global Compact and the UN Consultants Remuneration Guidelines. The content was also written to follow those guidelines as well as the Plain English Campaign, which seeks to reduce the presence of “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information”. On top of this, the magazine benefited from experience: the experience of one of Iceland’s top graphic designers and illustrators, the team based at the UNOSSC in New York who oversaw the editing and proof reading, and the researcher, editor and writer who has led many successful and award-winning publishing ventures, including during “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever”.   

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.

Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology was published in 2011 and launched at the Expo in Rome, Italy.
Southern Innovator Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship was published in 2012 and launched at the Expo in Vienna, Austria.
Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security was published in 2012 and launched at the Expo in Vienna, Austria.
Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization was published in 2013 and launched at the Expo in Nairobi, Kenya (the first time in Africa).
Issue 6 of Southern Innovator was to be on the theme of science, technology and innovation.
Southern Innovator Issue 5: Waste and Recycling was published in 2014 and launched at the Expo in Washington, D.C.

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it.”

Southern Innovator Editor and Writer David South.

Disrupted! Whatever happened to Southern Innovator Issue 6?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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Will Niagara Falls Become The Northern Vegas?

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), May 16-29, 1996

Niagara Falls – Niagara Falls has always been a town that attracted big dreamers with even bigger schemes. The beauty of the Falls has intoxicated many with grand ideas. Towards the turn of the century, the inventor of the Gillette safety razor, King Camp Gillette, tried to transform the American side into a Utopian paradise, planning to house most of the US population in a community of beehive-style high-rises covering an area 135 miles long and 45 miles wide.

Given the long history of grand schemes to remake both sides of Niagara Falls, it is hard not to see the hyperbole surrounding the planned casnio, slated to open by the end of the year, as another over-hyped dream. Just as Gillette spoke of untold riches, the government-owned Ontario Casino Corporation also sees Utopia ready to be born at the edge of the Falls. As provincial tourism minister Doug Saunderson said last month, “The casino and tourist development will provide Niagara with a kick start into the 21st century… I believe they will move Niagara to the very top of the list of destinations for world travellers.”

Those expectations sound even more impressive if you believe the government’s estimates for job creation. In a city of 76,000, the government projects between 3,000 and 9,000 jobs will result from the casino and its spin-offs. With numbers like that, it is hard to find many people who will say no.

Everywhere in Niagara Falls’ tourist district roads are being ripped up. Tourists from New York, Japan and Quebec tread through the clouds of gravel dust to see the Falls. But it isn’t just the government which is dreaming big for Niagara Falls.

Three dreams are fighting in this town for the hearts and souls of its residents, and depending on your perspective, have their merits. One, a scheme being championed by a group of local church leaders, is to build a wholesome theme park based around the exploits of local heroine Laura Secord during the War of 1812. Another more flamboyant scheme that has been on and off again since 1993, involves building a $1.4 billion theme park dedicated to transcendental meditation. So far, the casino is winning hands down.

The casino on its own is helping to raise another dream, phoenix-like, from the ashes. In 1979, the DiCenzo family built Maple Leaf Village as a joint shopping mall/theme park attraction. Now it sits derelict, waiting for renovations by the Buttcon construction company to turn it into the temporary site for the casino.

The run-down Maple Leaf Village, with its old-world European facade resembling a castle, became known for tacky attractions like the JFK Assassination Museum, the Elvis Presley Museum and the Nightmares Therapy Centre.

Judy MacCarthy has fought plans to build a casino since they were first discussed. She helped put together a coalition of church groups called the Try Another Way Committee. MacCarthy’s dream involves a theme park extolling the virtues of Laura Secord, whose claim to fame was snitching on the American invaders, having them ambushed by Indians near Niagara Falls.

MacCarthy says the provincial government has shown some interest in the project, even sending officials from Toronto to meet with her.

As for the more ambitious transcendental meditation theme park, it looks as if the whole project hangs on securing enough funds to get it off the ground.

In 1993, Maharishi Veda Land’s chair, the effervescent magician Doug Henning, told the media that Niagara Falls had to make up its mind: choose between the transcendental theme park, with its centre-piece floating bridge, or the moral decadence of a casino.

Three years later, what many thought to be a project even less tangible than Henning’s metaphysical musings, seems to still have some life left. Tucked away on the 13th floor of a Bay Street office tower in Toronto, Maharishi Veda Land Inc. – Enlightenment, Knowledge, Entertainment – continues to run with a handful of staff. As three office workers scatter behind closed doors, a secretary tells me the theme park is still a go, but refuses to give any more details. But MVL has told a Florida newspaper it isn’t going to build a theme park on property the company owns there.

Ted Cook, the former vice-president of PCL Eastern, the construction company Henning contracted to build the park, says there was a change in attitude: “Henning’s position softened as time passed (over the casino). He became less opposed on moral grounds, and it was now ‘maybe we can make it work’.”

If there was an epicentre to the Niagara dream machine, it is the office of its mayor, Wayne Thompson.

Dean Iorfida is the mayor’s executive assistant. For Iorfida, the casino is a matter of turning a seasonal economy dependent on summer-time tourists into a viable year-round attraction. Even when they do come to Niagara Falls, he says, the average tourist’s stay is just four hours.

Iorfida is dreaming large, imagining the permanent site will include an auditorium, convention centre and amusement park. “Vegas has gone that way,” he says.

But he also wants to see the whole city transformed by the casino. “We have to spread it around or you get a black hole effect: too much in one location.”

As for the complaints that the casino will only add to the tacky reputation of Niagara Falls, Iorfida believes “the city doesn’t want anything that turns people off, but we can’t stop private enterprise. We are talking about one location, I don’t think it will be like Vegas where casinos try to out-garish each other.”

Many associated with the traditional tourist attractions in Niagara are banking on seeing some of the casino cash. Merchants on Clifton Hill, “The street of fun at the falls,” are hoping they can complement the casino rather than compete.

So far, the tourist trap, despite the shabby strip of Clifton Hill with its wax museums and fudge shops, or even the block after block of cheap hotels and motels, has been able to avoid turning into a seedier form of sleaze – it is still a family atmosphere. In fact, the declasse’ tone of the city hides an impressive stability and prosperity that makes the residents of Niagara Falls, New York jealous. For many opposed to the casino, it is this stability that is at stake.

Overhead is the dayglo pink and turquoise marquee of the Movieland Wax Museum, where one can see wax likeness’ of such luminaries as Jim Carrey. Guy Paone, the general manager of the museum, says he is happy about the casino, hoping it will bring year-round business.

“We get families down here,”he says. “If dad wants to go to the casino, then mom and the kids can come here.”

Paone isn’t expecting any business from the die-hard gamblers though. “The hard-core gamblers didn’t come here any way. You know how it is – in Vegas some people don’t eat or sleep.”

As for some of the doom and gloom about increasing crime scaring off the family tourists, Paone doesn’t buy it. “We are pretty tight on petty crime here. I don’t think the casino will affect the family reputation.”

Paone does have a sobering thought he leaves me with, “we are the suicide capital.”

All the hope has already spawned new jobs teaching the unemployed how to gamble. Frank Cricenti, black jack course co-ordinator at the National Casino Academy, joins a growing number of people employed in the lucrative business of teaching the unemployed casino skills. According to Cricenti, casino schools “are just popping up.” At government employment centres, staff are anticipating more than 100,000 applications to flood in chasing the 3,000 jobs being offered. Such a yawning chasm between expectations and reality means times are good for the adult education business.

At the 47-room Cataract Motel, the casino is an excuse to spiff the place up. “We have painted and renovated the rooms so that they look like they’re brand new,” says the motel’s manager, who will only give his name as B. John.

Other property owners are banking on the casino rescuing them from the slump. Eva Klein of Klein Developments, wants to especially unload her pricier properties. “There has been a little bit of change in the rental market, some casino people are moving into town,” Klein tells id. “We’ve had a high vacancy of higher-end rentals in Niagara Falls and we’re expecting these to be filled by a new influx from the casino.”

For Niagara Falls, the casino looks set to turn the city into a smaller, more Canadian Las Vegas. For a city desperate for more work, that doesn’t sound too bad. For the provincial government’s travelling road show, the next stop is to move the existing Windsor casino’s management over to staff the new casino at Niagara Falls.

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far

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CASE STUDY 3: Id Magazine | 1996 – 1997

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