By Frank Parlato Jr.
I’m thinking of knocking the former Occidental building down. Demolition is what I mean.
I’m thinking of making the whole area -- about 2.5 acres -- into a parking lot and a place for local, outdoor vendors to profit. I’m proud of that concept – partnering with local people to make tourism a success for Niagara Falls.
Success- that’s what I mean.
Let me explain my plan -- from my perspective, then from the community’s perspective - as I see it.
When I bought the Occidental Building, in December, 2004, I knew the building needed substantial repairs: more than one million. In fact, those repairs were the reason why the building’s anchor tenant- the Small Business Administration moved out, a plan already in place before I bought the building.
When I bought the property, it was more for location than the building itself; although I always thought I’d use the building somehow.
But the real estate is the thing: location times
three: 1. the closest, privately-owned property to Niagara Falls;
2. adjacent to the Niagara Falls State Park; 3. adjacent to the
Rainbow International Bridge - making it the gateway property for
Nevertheless, after the SBA moved out, in June, 2005- I had a nine-story, all-glass, 160,000 square foot, vacant office building.
I considered renting it. But, despite the fact that offices here would have a fine view of the falls, after one year’s time, tenants were hardly beating down my doors. I thought of making the building a tourist center, with restaurants and stores and other attractions. At a million per year in expenses to maintain the building and millions more to develop it, and with the American side of the Falls mostly undeveloped, it would take years before the property would turn a profit.
All the while, right across the street was Albany’s
parking lot (which, ironically, is the same acreage as my land)
earning more than 1.3 million a year. And, my location is better:
it’s the first property one sees coming east off the Rainbow
Bridge to the USA, or coming west toward the State Park on Niagara
St, or either north or south from the Robert Moses Parkway.
By knocking the building down, I could go from empty building, costing a million a year to a tourist-friendly midway, and vending operation with a parking lot making a million or more in income.
I could be the tail that wags the dog.
For years, Albany had that honor, as it controlled tourism in Niagara Falls by its pro-Albany management of the state park. Now I could help guide where people parked, where they shopped and ate. What information they received. I could partner with the city. Be its unofficial public relations director. I could help promote the whole city as part and parcel of the tourist’s experience. And bring in suitable local vendors who could make money too.
So here’s the deal: Let us for once make a deal with a developer and the city which is fair for both the city and the developer. One that future residents will say – this was a ‘win-win.” “In retrospect, we’re glad we made it.”
I want to say the same thing for myself.
For the city’s part, they assist a developer (me) to get his project accomplished, and, for the developer’s part, he will try his best to play fair with the people and make a deal that future residents will not regret.
First: it will cost about two million to take the building down and construct a midway or welcome center and a parking lot with drainage, lighting and permanent structures for vendors. (A lot of local people are going to make money from tourists with the city and I in Niagara Falls).
We’re going to make it a welcome zone for visitors. Treat the tourists to a welcome like we’re waiting for them – at the end of their long journey- by the side of the road.
The money would come from the city from bonding. In effect, like the city co-signing a loan for a developer. I will make payments on the bond, so it will not cost the city anything. This is important: The city’s bond will be secured by a first mortgage on my property. If I do not pay, the city takes the property- and for a fraction of its value.
My advantage is that the city gets bond money at low interest rates. And can pass that savings on to me.
As for the city’s profit, they will get their usual property taxes, plus 15% of parking revenues. The city will make more money from this property as a parking lot and vendor location than it will as a vacant building, and so will I.
In short: A: No risk, no cost to the city. B: They help me. C: I help them. Win –win.
Now, as to the building coming down, I always felt that, although I love the building, it’s in the wrong place. A nine-story office building adjacent to the most visited state park in the US is an impediment to tourism -- not an aid. It may have been right when Occidental was alive and well and employing thousands locally; but, today, there is small demand for office space downtown.
And, as for the building itself, it’s simply too large to be where it is. It acts more as a fortress blocking the vista toward the falls. In fact, the building casts an early morning shadow looming across the park - casting darkness over tree and tourist alike. There should be no high-rise next to the most famous park in the nation. A tall, glass building shouldn’t block the view of the park, which only when you get around it, can you see there is a park. Those who understand the dynamics of great views will understand what I mean. This proposed demolition will open up a more distant and panoramic view of the beautiful frontage of the state park. Help develop a sense of excitement and expectation- even wonderment.
With the building downed, it will open the area
for surrounding businesses and they too should benefit from increased
visibility. It will make the Rainbow Centre extremely visible –
hopefully paving the way for its reemergence. It will open the view
from Niagara St. for the Hard Rock Café and other nearby
businesses along the walkways.
It will provide, too, more parking for visitors to the falls- on the USA side, who, last year, on almost every day of summer, were turned away from the state parking lot because it was full. When people came to Niagara Falls and saw the State parking lot sign read “full” -they drove straight to Canada. I know I saw them. More parking will increase business for attractions like Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds.
And, working with the city on signage, we can offer directions into the city. If our plan is affected, we will be the first sign tourists see from Canada. We can be facilitators and guides to what the city has – beyond the park.
Finally, I think it’s fair to say that the best deals in business are ones which neither party “needs” to make, but rather would “wish” to make.
I don’t need the city’s bond. I really don’t. And the city can get along without my proposed parking revenue. But we all might profit from our association together.
If the city doesn’t make the deal, I will continue on my way, eager still to help the city any way I can, and help myself, and probably finance my plan privately with investors or through a bank. What I pay in extra interest, I’ll save on revenue sharing with the city.
Either way I’ll succeed.
But, after all, that’s why I came to Niagara Falls.
It’s great place, a wonderful place – to succeed.