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What does the future hold for NFR?

   Six years ago, a development agreement for downtown Niagara Falls envisioned $110 million in new projects for the ailing neighborhood.

   Today, those blocks contain mostly grassy lots.

   The company that holds the development agreement, Niagara Falls Redevelopment, has purchased hundreds of parcels of land - including many from the city - but has yet to build on them.

    What happened?

   A review of the 2003 contract by a University at Buffalo law professor found it contained few remedies for the city to take action if no development occurred. A story in today's Niagara Weekend section explains the contract's provisions and looks at whether the city failed to protect its rights as it dealt with the firm.

   State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli will soon weigh in; his office is expected to release a report on NFR's development agreement, as well as on a city lease with another private firm for the Rainbow Centre mall.

   Both documents represent the bitter disappointment the people of Niagara Falls feel about the slow pace of development.

   What do you think?

   - Denise Jewell Gee

What should happen with The Summit mall?

   The owners of The Summit mall in Wheatfield tried several strategies to keep the struggling Williams Road retail hub open in recent years, but in the end none of them have worked.

   The North Carolina-based limited liability company that owns the mall, Oberlin Plaza One, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the mall property will be put up for sale as part of the proceedings.

   Inside tenants will have 60 days to move out. The owners will work with tenants who want to remain open on site and move to a location accessible from the outside of the building, James Anthony, leader of the company that bought the mall in 2002, told News Niagara Reporter Denise Jewell Gee for a story in today's Niagara Weekend.

   Anthony said said Sears, The Bon-Ton, Save-A-Lot, M&T Bank, Bank of America and Summit Pediatrics will remain open for business.

   Meanwhile, town and county leaders said they will work with other tenants to help them relocate in Niagara County and to try to help find a new use for the mall property.

   "It is now and will continue to be retail in part," Anthony said. "But it is simply too big and costly to be a pure retail center. It needs to have offices and services in it."

   Can The Summit survive? If so, in what form?

-- News Niagara Editor Scott Scanlon

The Wintergarden will soon be gone, but the memories will linger

   The end of an era drew a step closer Thursday as the state finalized a deal to buy the former Wintergarden in Niagara Falls.

   USA Niagara Development Corp. agreed to pay $1.2 million for the deteriorating building.

   The state agency plans to demolish the glass arboretum sometime this summer and extend Old Falls Street from the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel to the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park.

   Plans to tear down the building have drawn a few outcries from a small group of area residents sad to see what was once a unique arboretum and public gathering space go.

   In its years as a tropical garden, the building offered a respite to tourists, a space for simple weddings and a quiet place for locals to enjoy a packed lunch.

   But the building -- once lauded by Progressive Architecture magazine -- faded in recent years. The plants are long gone, the ceiling leaks and the catwalks that once gave visitors a glimpse of the gardens from above have been removed.

   What are your memories of the Wintergarden? How do you feel about the plan to raze the glass building?

   - Denise Jewell Gee

Citizens not bashful on Moses redesign

  Is the state making up for past wrongs in Niagara Falls or serving its own interests?

   That was at the heart of comments made during a public meeting Tuesday night on a proposal to redesign the Robert Moses Parkway as it enters Niagara Falls State Park.

   And representatives for the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation got an earful. A story in today's Niagara & Region section explains the latest conceptual designs for the southern section of the parkway and the public reaction.

   Many of the speakers at the meeting expressed disappointment over the way the state has managed the park for more than a century. They told project consultants that their failure to draw up a proposal to remove the road from the park and restore its natural landscape is a mistake.

   Dozens of people who attended the meeting and appeared to be opposed to the plan came together and are affiliated with a commercial building, One Niagara, that operates a paid parking lot and a retail center just outside the state park.

   Others came on their own.

   Whoever they came with, many of the people at the meeting appeared to oppose the latest conceptual designs and to blame the state for the condition of Niagara Falls.

   "I have to explain every day pretty much why there's a hideous mess to look at in what was once a beautiful city," said Robert Helms, a musician who also works in One Niagara.

   Jeff Lebsack, of Hatch Mott MacDonald, the lead consultant on the project, said the proposals are meant as an improvement.

   "Everybody working on this project really does care about the city and our efforts are oriented to trying to return and correct some of these things that happened," Lebsack said. "We're going to try to change some of that."

   -- Denise Jewell Gee

Old Falls public safety building may find new life

   The Niagara Falls police station and courthouse building was deemed beyond repair a few years back when state officials wanted the city to build a new one.

   It appears what wasn't good enough for police, lawyers and criminal defendants might suit senior citizens just fine — after renovations, of course.

   Two Buffalo development firms hope to turn the city's police and courts building on Hyde Park Boulevard and a former school on 39th Street into homes for seniors.

   Ontario Specialty Contracting Inc. and McGuire Development Co. have submitted a joint proposal to the city to renovate the buildings and operate them as an assisted living facility and market-rate patio apartments called Sherwood East and West.

   The $10 million plan was the only submission in response to a request for proposals issued by the city earlier this month for the two buildings, according to a story in today's Buffalo News Niagara & Region section.

   The proposal envisions the long-vacant 39th Street School as 35 market-rate patio apartments targeted to "empty nesters or seniors." The public safety building on Hyde Park Boulevard would be turned into an assisted living facility with 30 suites.

   The Hyde Park Boulevard public safety building will be replaced next month by a new, $47 million police headquarters and courthouse on north Main Street.

   The old building was deemed by city officials in late 2004 and early 2005 as too small and in too poor condition to renovate for the city's police and courts. Asbestos, a leaking roof and a poor heating, ventilation and air conditioning system were among the problems cited.

   The state's Office of Court Administration was threatening at the time to withhold state aid if the city did not address the problems.

   "The specifications for a public court system are a lot different than any other private development that might happen," said former Mayor Vince V. Anello, who was in office when the decision was made to construct a new building.

In uninspiring downtown Niagara Falls, Parlato says at least he's trying

   The first floor of a nine-story glass building just outside Niagara Falls State Park was already bustling with activity last week in anticipation of the upcoming tourist season.

   Niagara Falls T-shirts for sale lined a table.

   The operators of several food counters that serve up Chinese, Mexican and Indian cuisine were preparing to open.

   There were free doughnuts and coffee available for tourists who wandered in or had paid the $5 parking fee for One Niagara's lot.

   This, Frank Parlato Jr. says, is a tourist center on its way up.

   But the building has been plagued with problems.

   Parlato has been juggling two lawsuits and regulatory issues for nearly as long as he has been involved in the building.

   A story in today's Niagara Weekend section takes a look at a bitter legal battle between Parlato and another owner of the building, David Ho.

   Parlato, the managing member of a company that owns the former Oxy building, points to the vacant Rainbow Centre mall and other empty buildings in downtown Niagara Falls as examples of what he could have done in the face of challenges that have mounted against him.

   It would be cheaper, his attorney contends, to just lock up the building and pay the taxes. That's what others have done in Niagara Falls.

   Parlato says he will prevail. He points to more than a dozen local residents who rent space in the building and have been able to make a go of small tourist-related businesses.

   In downtown Niagara Falls last week, there were few other places open for tourists to go.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

As expected, the county files lawsuit over casino revenue split

Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and State Sen. Antoine Thompson included language in the recently passed state budget that strips away a small slice of Seneca Niagara casino slots revenue from Niagara County and adds to the bounty of the City of Niagara Falls.

That hasn't set well with the County Legislature, which overwhelmingly passed a resolution at its Tuesday night meeting to file a lawsuit seeking not only to overturn the budget resolution but also to take a greater share of revenue away from New York state.

Who can blame county lawmakers? The county's slots share so far -- $976,892 -- is less than 2 percent of the $50 million of slots revenue that has flowed to the local community since the casino opened. That accounts for one-quarter of the slots revenue.

The state, meanwhile, gets the other three-quarters; about $150 million since the casino opened New Year's Eve 2002.

Falls and county politicians both say they need the small percentage the county has received. County officials say payments they have made to fund festivals and help local organizations -- sometimes in amounts as small as $1,000 -- go a long way for small groups. City officials say that money could become a dedicated revenue source for fixing streets in Niagara Falls that are riddled with potholes, a problem even Gov. David A. Paterson said is a priority when he was in Niagara Falls last month.

Both say they'd like to take a greater share of slots money from the state's share, too.

It ought to be interesting to see how this battle ends.

Grading USA Niagara on its work in downtown Niagara Falls

     Development in Niagara Falls was at standstill until the Seneca Nation of Indians opened a downtown casino on New Year's Eve 2002, followed a year later by an adjoining 26-story hotel.

     The Senecas quickly eclipsed the almost invisible presence of Niagara Falls Redevelopment, a private company that set up offices in the city more than 10 years ago and has yet to come up with any actual development or even redevelopment.

     Then came USA Niagara Development Corp., the state government's development arm. In its five years in the city, USA Niagara has reconstructed and streetscaped Old Falls Street; completed a similar makeover of the so-called Third Street Entertainment District; opened a $20 million state-owned conference center on Old Falls Street; and put $6 million of state money into a major renovation of the 400-room Crowne Plaza Hotel on Third Street.

     Projects in the planning stage include a pedestrian mall intended to create a more natural transition between the downtown core and Niagara Falls State Park; and the removal of a big chunk of the Robert Moses Parkway near the Upper Niagara River, thus opening up access to the waterfront.

     But Niagara Falls, while attracting 10 million visitors a year from all over the world, is still in a bizarre state of arrested development. The Senecas, Niagara Falls Redevelopment and USA Niagara are the current players who have vowed to revitalize a long-decaying downtown. Are they getting the job done? And if not, who else needs to step up to the plate?

-- Bill Michelmore

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