NIAGARA FALLS — A representative for the One Niagara building downtown told Niagara Falls Planning Board members on Wednesday that if the owner of the old Rainbow Mall is out of the running for a proposed culinary institute, his boss would welcome the project with open arms.
The proposal came up during a conversation about One Niagara owner Frank Parlato’s latest efforts to comply with standards the Planning Board has been attempting to apply at the former Occidental Chemical Building for some time.
On that subject, One Niagara President Tony Farina told board members Parlato has done quite a bit with the building and is hoping to do much more in an effort to make it as attractive as possible for visitors to the downtown area.
“I want the place to look nice,” said Farina, the former television news reporter who was selected to run the building by Parlato earlier this year. “I’ve got my name attached to it now. I want it to look good.”
City officials have been questioning the look of the building for some time. Last year, Parlato opened a ninth-floor observation deck without having an approved certificate of occupancy for the space or an approved site plan for the entire building. The site plan was deemed incomplete by the city’s planning department and, until now, has never been formally reviewed by the city’s Planning Board.
Parlato sued the city, asking a judge to require the city to issue the necessary approvals to allow him to open the observation deck. In July, State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch Sr. ruled that the floor could be opened, pending submission of a new application for an amended building site plan.
On Wednesday, planning board members met with Farina during a work session to review One Niagara’s latest plans. Several expressed concerns, among them the landscaping and tar chip parking lot that surrounds the building and the many signs on the property that have yet to be formally approved by city inspectors.
At least two board members indicated that they wouldn’t support the new site plan application as presented.
“If the parking lot is not going to be paved, my vote is going to be no,” said Planning Board member Tim Polka.
Farina indicated that he did not have a cost estimate for paving the lot, but would discuss the idea with Parlato.
“I can’t sit here and tell you we are going to do it, but I’ll certainly look into it,” he said.
Reached by telephone following Wednesday’s meeting, Parlato said there’s no reason to pave the lot as the tar chip material was not only appropriate for an area that was once the site of a gaping hole under the failed AquaFalls development, but also met handicapped accessible and state code at the time of its installation.
“It was the right application of an area that was formerly a 40-foot hole,” Parlato said.
As for the Planning Board’s signage standards, Parlato described the city sign laws as “Draconian” and suggested that signs like those found on his property were wholly appropriate for his and other tourism attractions in the downtown area.
“Big signs mean big business,” he said. “We need to advertise.”
When asked if Parlato — who has had run-ins with city officials in the past and frequently pens articles critical of Mayor Paul Dyster’s administration — felt as though he was being singled out by the planning department, he did not point any fingers, but did not rule out the possibility.
“I feel that some people would prefer that wouldn’t be here in town,” he said.
City Planner Tom DeSantis said his department has been and will continue to work with Farina and other associates from One Niagara in an effort to come up with a “reasonable” site plan for both parties. The tentative plan is expected to come up for a final vote by the planning board at a future meeting.
“What we are trying to do is move to what is allowable and get that permitted and what isn’t allowable and get that removed,” DeSantis said.
Both Parlato and Farina indicated that they are attempting to get past the issues of the past and come together on a workable plan that would allow both parties to move forward. Parlato said he is looking to open the second floor of his building to tourists this year and would like the necessary approvals in place before doing so. If necessary, he said he would once again defend his rights in court as he did with the ninth floor opening last year.
“They asked us for quite a few concessions and we made concessions,” Parlato said. “The ultimate arbitrator of this may have to be a judge. At this point in time, Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Dyster appear to have been cordial to Mr. Farina and he has reciprocated.”
Parlato said he encouraged Farina to pitch One Niagara as a potential spot for Niagara County Community College’s proposed culinary institute and Farina reached out to the city’s Economic Development Director to extend the proposal. The city and its partners in the project recently broke off negotiations with Baltimore developer David Cordish who was considering the culinary institute for a portion of the mall building.
“We will have a tremendous deal for them,” Parlato said. “We believe our view, our property and our location is a superior one.”