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NIAGARA FALLS – A Canadian family in the hospitality business on both sides of the border and Buffalo’s largest commercial real estate manager and developer are making plans to revive two-thirds of the former Rainbow Centre mall.

Groups headed by Intertrust Development, a company run by the DiCienzo family, and Uniland Development Co. passed a prescreening process and will be allowed to offer plans for the downtown site, state economic development officials announced Tuesday.

In its statement of qualifications summarized in a news release from the state, Intertrust’s proposed project was described as an upscale, urban mixed-use entertainment development, including themed franchise restaurants, retail plaza, attractions, hotel and other amenities.

Uniland’s preliminary concept was identified as something that would turn the site into a year-round destination, with a focus on amenities such as a hotel, a themed attraction, retail/restaurant space and an expansion of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.

Intertrust and Uniland were selected from an undisclosed number of developers who responded to the state’s request for qualifications for the project issued in April. The state solicited a recommendation from a panel of real estate experts on what should be done with the property, and a report was received earlier this year.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said the interest from the two developers shows that “clearly something is changing about the market” in the city.

“If you look at the trajectory here of the downtown area, these are two groups of very capable, very qualified developers that probably wouldn’t have come near a project in downtown Niagara Falls five years ago,” Dyster said.

The two firms will be the only ones allowed to submit specific proposals for the redevelopment opportunity, the second of a two-part process to select a preferred developer for more than 200,000 square feet on the north side of the property. Officials said they hope to have a developer selected sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.

Since its last anchor tenant left in 1999, the mall in the middle of downtown Niagara Falls has been mostly vacant – an unsightly symbol of the city’s decline. But the building has experienced a bit of a revival since the opening of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute there last year.

Whichever developer is selected, if any, it would be in line for some public funding by way of the Buffalo Billion, said Howard A. Zemsky, co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, a state-coordinated advisory group that has identified tourism as an important focus area for the region.

“I would say we are predisposed to potentially using some of the Buffalo Billion for that aspect of the project and have been for some time,” Zemsky said.

Intertrust Development’s team also includes LPCiminelli, JCJ Architecture and Landry’s. Uniland is working with Cannon Design and Delaware North Cos.

Intertrust Development is one of the companies in a group owned by the DiCienzo family, which owns a number of hotels in Niagara Falls, Ont., most notably the high-rises that overlook the falls from the Canadian side. It also owns the Days Inn just across from the Rainbow Bridge and the Sheraton at the Falls on Third Street, formerly a Crowne Plaza.

Michael DiCienzo, vice president of development for Canadian Niagara Hotels, of which Intertrust is an affiliate, said his company has “a continued interest in Niagara Falls, N.Y.,” where he said it has done quite well.

“We felt that there’s certainly several voids in the market which we intend to fill to help increase visitation and also the overnight stays,” DiCienzo said.

USA Niagara Development Corp., the Falls subsidiary of Empire State Development, issued the request for qualifications and plans to issue the full request for proposals by the end of September, said Christopher J. Schoepflin, USA Niagara’s president.

The agency plans to recommend a preferred developer to its board of directors and the City Council sometime in the fall, Schoepflin said.

“These two were chosen because they have an extraordinary track record of investment in urban cores. And they understand. They both invested in urban areas. Their teams are, in some ways, represented all over the world,” Schoepflin said.

Uniland made a proposal for property at 310 Rainbow Blvd. that the Hamister Group was ultimately selected for, though the City Council has yet to agree to the proposed development agreement.

Uniland has not done any projects in Niagara County before, said Kellena L.W. Kane, the company’s real estate development manager.

It’s most recognizable projects include the Avant building in Buffalo, as well as Sheraton Meadows Corporate Park and University Corporate Centre on Maple Road, both in Amherst.

“Niagara Falls needs something big, and we feel like if this project is done correctly, it can have a huge effect on Niagara Falls and the whole region,” Kane said.

Tuesday’s announcement came during a meeting of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council at the Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com