Duffy joined about 300 officials and residents to celebrate the grand opening of the Culinary Institute Niagara Falls, which gives life to the long-vacant Rainbow Centre mall.
"It's a thing of beauty," Duffy said of the $30 million project. "I hope you are all as proud of this as me."
Niagara County Community College President James P. Klyczek was hailed as the driving force in bringing the cooking school to the city, along with Baltimore developer David S. Cordish, who donated the mall to the school two years ago.
Visitors streamed through the Barnes & Noble cooking store at the campus and toured the institute's deli, pastry cafe and gourmet restaurant, which will all open to the public by Oct. 30.
Just as Duffy prepared to speak, top urban planners and consultants from across the nation presented a plan to repurpose the 200,000-square-feet of the vacant mall not occupied by the cooking school.
The plan would dramatically change the face of the remaining two thirds of the mall, cutting it in half, adding a pedestrian walkway through the middle and creating a public square where tourists and residents could gather.
The mall should be turned into a vibrant retail space with the addition of a local farmers' market, small shops accessible at street level, a bowling alley and a four-screen movie theater, according to consultants from the Urban Land Institute, which has spent the week studying the area's development challenges.
"I like it," USA Niagara Christopher J. Schoepflin said of the plan. "The easy it is for people to move around, the more money they're going to spend. [We want to] give them options."