NIAGARA FALLS - The Niagara Falls Planning Board approved a site plan last week allowing retail business on the first floor of the former Occidental Chemical office building, as well as a paid parking lot for customers in the front.
The action came after developer Frank Parlato Jr. had operated food and souvenir sales at 360 Rainbow Blvd. for months and had already begun construction on a new restaurant and lounge.
Parlato had signed a settlement with the city in April allowing him to bypass the Planning Board until October so that he could operate through the tourist season while he worked to bring the building up to code.
The building, adjacent to the Niagara Falls State Park, was condemned in August for a few weeks by the city's Inspections Department because the developer failed to make some promised fire safety improvements. Those issues have since been resolved, and the building has been given a new certificate of occupancy.
The Planning Board was given a final site plan to review late last month for the building's current use. The site plan calls for a paved parking lot instead of the gravel space Parlato has parked cars on for two summers. The parking lot is on top of a former two-story hole dug years ago for a failed underground aquarium planned by a previous developer that Parlato finished filling in May.
The site plan shows a mall-like first-floor retail and restaurant space already in place now. Parlato said he has finished construction of a bar and lounge area on the first floor and gained a liquor license last week.
"What we saw this year was just the beginning of what we could be here," Parlato said. "I want to enhance everything we've done so far by adding additional retail and restaurants."
Some City Council members said the city agreement that let Parlato bypass Planning Board approval for six months was unfair to other entrepreneurs. Parlato said recently that since he was able to operate all summer without making all necessary improvements right away, he was able to pay the $65,000 remaining in the 2005 taxes owed to the city as well as $12,000 owed on an adjacent strip of land last week.
"I admit that's just the beginning, but it is a start, and it's the first time in seven years any taxes have been received for this property," Parlato said. "I'm proud of that because we did it on our own even though it may not be much."
As of August, the developer owed $700,000 in back taxes to the city, school district and county for the property. The building was previously under a payment-in-lieu-of-tax program with the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
Parlato says his next project at the location will be to build a restaurant, banquet space and viewing area of the falls on the top floor of the nine-story building.