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NIAGARA FALLS – Companies interested in redeveloping the 200,000 square feet of space left in the old Rainbow Centre Mall have until May 20 to make their pitches.

Officials of the USA Niagara Development Corp., a state agency that controls development rights for the former shopping mall, announced Thursday that they have issued a request for qualifications from would-be developers.

Part of the former mall became the Niagara County Community College Culinary Arts Institute last year, but that left two-thirds of the 1970s glass and steel building looking for a reuse plan.

USA Niagara, a subsidiary of Empire State Development, will choose a group of finalists from which it will seek specific proposals.

Its choice of one or more developers, and the subsequent development agreement, will be subject to approval by the City Council, Mayor Paul A. Dyster said.

USA Niagara spokeswoman Laura Magee said it’s hoped a developer will be in place by September. It will be that company’s job to line up tenants.

“I’m presuming there’s going to be a mix of uses,” Dyster said. “We’re having to be reasonably flexible. We want the market to decide this.”

The 29-page request for qualifications tells developers that USA Niagara envisions that the building will not remain intact.

A study by Urban Land Institute, whose conclusions were adopted by USA Niagara, proposed breaking up the mall with an east-west covered corridor, creating new retail frontages along the new “street,” as well as along the mall’s current exteriors on First Street and Rainbow Boulevard.

“Although this could likely require a public investment to accomplish, it would also facilitate a phased approach to the redevelopment,” the document says.

Dyster said, “We’re trying to open it up to pedestrian traffic to eliminate the monolithic faces of the mall. Those things we would want any developer to abide by.”

The study envisioned some uses that would complement the Culinary Institute, such as a ground-level food market. Other ideas in the study included entertainment facilities such as a nightclub, bowling lanes or a health club.

The study also emphasized the importance of improving the building’s appearance, since it faces the Rainbow Bridge plaza.

The state envisions the redevelopment of the mall, which is owned by the city, as part of the “Buffalo Billion” that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has promised to spend on economic development in the region.

USA Niagara President Christopher J. Schoepflin said the mall makeover goes along with the planned $25 million Hamister Group hotel and mixed-use project across First Street from the mall, which is to begin construction this year.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com