NIAGARA FALLS – The new year is shaping up to see activity in places in the city were some high-profile projects are already in the works.
Later this month, state economic development officials are expected to receive proposals from two development groups for a project in 200,000 vacant square feet of the former Rainbow Centre mall downtown.
The Niagara Falls Culinary Institute takes up roughly one-third of the building’s south end, but the rest of the space in the building has been largely vacant since the last anchor tenant left in 1999.
In August, groups led by Intertrust Development and Uniland Development Co. were selected out of a pre-screening process to submit responses to a request for proposals by the end of last year. The deadline for making the proposals was extended by state officials.
In their preliminary submissions, both groups suggested hotels, attractions and restaurants would be part of their more detailed proposals.
USA Niagara Development Corp., the state’s economic development arm in the Falls, said the group’s submissions will be taken in at the end of the month.
Officials hope to pick a preferred developer in February, said Christopher J. Schoepflin, USA Niagara’s president.
The project will generate tens of millions in private investment, Schoepflin told the organization’s board of directors at a Dec. 16 meeting in the Falls.
When completed, it will “start to create a real destination node on Old Falls Street,” he said.
State officials also are expected in the first quarter of the year to unveil more specific plans for the creation of more outdoor recreation activities along the Niagara Gorge.
Using land owned by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the state is looking for “a significant public-private partnership” in an effort to boost the largest segment of the tourism industry, which the state says has more annual economic output than the automotive industry.
One of the goals is to offer activities like horseback riding, zip-lining and rock climbing.
“You start to combine real estate with programming, outdoor recreation and you can really have this really great string of activities along the river gorge,” Schoepflin said.
Another previously announced state and local initiative expected to move forward in 2014 is the Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge.
The idea is to create a competition for the best ideas for signature development projects in the Falls, with $40 million in public dollars available over five years to the winners.
Schoepflin said last month he expects the challenged to be formally issued “in the very near future.”
Construction is supposed to begin in the fall on the first phase of removing a southern section of the Robert Moses Parkway leading into and out of Niagara Falls State Park.
The proposal is to create a “riverway” by taking out two of the parkway’s four lanes and replacing it with street-level, pedestrian friendly parkway that makes it easier for residents and visitors to get to the waterfront.
Embankments will be lowered; new trails, paths and sidewalks will be added; and vehicular pull-off points will be built to allow motorists to reach the water’s edge more easily.
Last May, $10 million in funding for the project was announced as part of the “Buffalo Billion” by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“We think that’s going to be just a fantastic way to reimagine our front door,” Schoepflin said.
The state already has agreed to remove a section of the Robert Moses Parkway from Main Street to Findlay Drive, and the city and state are in the process of finding $2 million to $3 million for the first phase of engineering for the project.
A few other projects of note:
• Construction of the $25.3 million hotel, apartment and retail project from the Hamister Group, which already has been approved, is expected to begin by the end of the year.
• City officials expect to move forward with the development of a new train station near the Whirlpool Bridge.
• The first phase of Niagara University’s planned Global Tourism Institute downtown is expected to move forward. The project was buoyed by a $250,000 award from the New York Power Authority approved in December. The funding was recommended by the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board in November.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he sees a confluence of local, regional and state plans, which he says bodes well for the Falls.
“I’m an optimistic person by nature, but it gives me greater optimism for the next few years than I’ve had the whole time I’ve been in public life,” he said.
On the local political level in the coming year, the election of Andrew P. Touma to the City Council, with the re-election of Kristen M. Grandinetti and Charles A. Walker, means Dyster will have a more supportive majority of lawmakers with whom to work.