NIAGARA FALLS – A city lawmaker is calling out the company that owns one of the most prominent pieces of property in downtown Niagara Falls for failing to make good on more than $1.5 million in payments owed to the city.
Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti on Thursday criticized One Niagara LLC, which struck a deal with the city in February over back taxes and the assessment of the nine-story former “flashcube” on Rainbow Boulevard.
The agreement, which Grandinetti opposed, was billed by supporters as a resolution to years of legal battles. The company had said the deal would give it a fresh start and a chance to move forward with further development of the high-profile parcel, which now offers food and souvenirs to tourists.
So far, One Niagara LLC, led by attorney Paul Grenga, has yet to pay one penny on the $1.55 million agreement ratified by the City Council even though the agreement spelled out payment would be due before Feb. 28.
“I voted against the settlement back in February because I was elected by the taxpayers of this city – the people that would rather follow the law than try to get away with paying less than their fair share,” Grandinetti said in a written statement released late Thursday afternoon.
“Representatives of the company begged for a settlement at the City Council meeting. But now, after being allowed to settle for $800,000 less than they owed, One Niagara LLC has chosen to once again slap the taxpayers of this city in the face.”
A company representative called the lawmaker’s criticism “premature,” asserting that the company will live up to its commitment under the agreement.
There are “some technical issues being worked out right now,” said One Niagara President Tony Farina, who declined to elaborate but said they involve “the transfer of money” and the process has not yet been completed.
“We’re looking to get this done as quickly as possible,” Farina said. “Hopefully it’s going to be done very soon, in the very near future.”
Terms of the agreement between the city and One Niagara LLC – whose building at 360 Rainbow Blvd. sits across from Niagara Falls State Park and is the first one seen when entering the United States over the Rainbow Bridge – were first made public in late December.
Even though the company owed nearly $2.3 million in back taxes, the deal called for the company to pay $1.55 million.
The One Niagara property, which once housed offices for Occidental Chemical, also is used as a paid parking lot and only a few of the floors of the building are occupied.
A deal between the two sides, which have been fighting for years over the property’s assessment, building code issues and owed back taxes, was brokered with the help of State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello.
Under the terms of the deal, which initially came before lawmakers in December, payments were to occur prior to Feb. 28.
But the Council put off a vote on the matter and it wasn’t taken up again until approval, by a 3-2 vote, came in mid-February, leaving only a couple weeks before the deadline for payment.
Councilmen Robert A. Anderson Jr., Glenn A. Choolokian and Andrew P. Touma voted in favor of the deal. Grandinetti and Council Chairman Charles A. Walker voted against it.
Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson and City Assessor James R. Bird recommended lawmakers make the deal.
Under the agreement, the city, which had begun foreclosure proceedings on the property, agreed to set the property’s assessment at $1 million for tax rolls from July 1, 2009, through July 1, 2013.
The $1.55 million payment would cover all taxes, interest and penalties owed for assessment rolls prior to July 1, 2009.
Mayor Paul A. Dyster said the city’s legal department on Thursday sent a letter to One Niagara’s attorneys seeking additional information and requesting payment by the end of the month.
If the payment is not made, the city will ask a judge to vacate the settlement and continue court proceedings, Dyster said.