Niagara Falls City Council members want to know how the city could reach an agreement allowing a downtown developer who owes more than $500,000 in back taxes to operate a business without their knowledge.
But Mayor Vince Anello and One Niagara owner Frank Parlato say there was nothing secretive about the deal struck in April that gives him six months to keep the nine-story glass building open and bring it into compliance with city codes.
Some council members said at a work session before Monday’s meeting that they first learned of the 180-day agreement from news articles published last week, and they wanted to know more about what rights Parlato has under the agreement.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Christopher Mazur told council members Monday, however, that he couldn’t discuss specifics of the agreement between attorneys for the city and Parlato, as it was reached “to dispose of a criminal court case.”
Council Chairman Charles Walker said it wasn’t only the council that needed to know, but other businesses that have had to pay or change plans because of their own code problems.
“What do we tell every other person that goes through the hoops, that this (developer) doesn’t have to go through this like everybody else?” Walker said Monday.
Mazur, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, noted at the work session the property is still under litigation, and that reports concerning Parlato’s operation since April 25 may require attorneys or code inspectors to “re-evaluate” their agreement.
Walker and Councilman Robert Anderson mentioned Mary O’s, a soul food restaurant that a family had hoped to open on Niagara Street and then Main Street, but code requirements in each building they leased halted their plans.
“To open up any kind of business is hard, very hard in this city,” Anderson said. “But it seems like we have a problem with people who call themselves renters, or entrepreneurs.”
But both Guy Bax, director of the city’s inspections department, and Ralph Aversa, head of NFC Development Corp., said the restaurant’s situation was completely different, as the business’ managers only went to the city for code consultation after already starting work on their property.
Parlato said Tuesday that the businesses currently operating inside One Niagara, along with the paid parking lot outside, are allowed within his certificate of occupancy agreement with the city.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good, honest agreement by a city administration that’s trying to see success stories happen in this town,” Parlato said.
Anello said that agreements to correct code problems are not regularly brought to the council’s attention in any situation.
“We’ve worked with (Parlato) just like we’ve worked with any other developer,” Anello said. “The process has been clear, the remedy is clear, and the penalties are clear.”