the spellbinding intensity of this summer’s political
theater, our local thespians will have a tough act to follow,
but in the case of the Tralf, political theater merged with
actual theater in the form of Curtain Up!
in The Buffalo News, the new owner of the club, Rohit Kapoor,
had run afoul of the City’s building inspectors and
County health inspectors for failing to obtain the required
permits to open the business in time for the Curtain Up! event.
News reporter Jim Heaney provided readers with enough of the
details to leave them in suspense as to whether the young
entrepreneur would be able to meet seemingly insurmountable
deadlines. Of course everyone was relieved that world of young
Kapoor didn’t come to an end because of a bunch of faceless
bureaucrats, but some further “backstory” might
be helpful in fleshing out this drama.
started life as a the Tralfamadore Cafe, a live jazz club
named after the planet Tralfamadore in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s
classic novel, “Slaughterhouse Five.” The building
that is now home to the Tralf was formerly owned by Theatre
Place Associates. Under the Masiello Administration some two
million dollars, mostly in federal HUD grants, were invested
in the building. Masiello crony and current Chief of Police
Rocco Diina was on the board of TPA. Masiello backer, Jim
Militello, then used his influence to bring in his brother,
noted jazz musician Bobby Militello, to take over the club.
The market for live jazz, fickle at its best, made it hard
to operate the club at a profit. But being a jazz musician,
Bobby made do.
itself apparently lost its ability to generate HUD grant money,
was put into the receivership mechanism of the Buffalo Economic
Renaissance Corp. and then “flipped” at a fraction
of the cost of taxpayer funds that were funneled into it.
The new owner, Acquest Development, was no stranger to HUD
projects. Still, Acquest’s chief, Bill Huntress, raised
eyebrows by unceremoniously dumping Bobby Militello in favor
of the young Kapoor when he assumed control of the building
two years ago.
of Theatre Place should have been an orderly real estate deal
between politically connected entities. What happened?
to The Niagara Falls Reporter, Huntress aroused the curiosity
of federal investigators when Acquest constructed the employee
parking lot for the Seneca Casino in Niagara Falls. Kapoor’s
father and Niagara Falls City Engineer Ashok Kapoor allowed
Acquest to work without permits, even though the site was
believed to be toxic. The original owner of the property was
none other than longtime Masiello crony and supporter Harry
brings us full circle. Huntress may have been repaying a favor
by bringing in young Kapoor, but in doing so he seems to have
raised the hackles of the Militellos. Millions of dollars
in HUD money has been squandered during the Masiello regime,
surely this little permit tiff is too insignificant to blow
the lid off of everything, right?