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COLUMN: One Niagara will overcome roadblocks

By Paul Grenga

11 August 2006

There has been recent press about the State Park Police being asked to hold Frank Parlato Jr. on a city court warrant that neither Parlato, the city, the NFPD nor Parlato’s attorneys knew about.

In an unusual move, the park police were asked to find Parlato, hold him and then call the city police to arrest him. This occurred in front of his family and employees. Not a typical parkway automobile stop where a routine background check is made. An officer, merely following orders, was told to go find a local businessman at work and to hold him. Ask any officer how often the State Park Police are put in that unenviable position.

Does anyone really think it was a coincidence? Parlato’s been fighting publicly with the state’s park since he came to town.

The Niagara Reservation State Park was originally created to stop the carpetbaggers from erecting fences and charging locals and visitors to look at the Falls through holes in the fence. Olmstead created a park with pedestrian paths, a natural setting with limited vehicular traffic, no artificial gardens, no vendors and no giant parking lots. At that time, this was good.

Robert Moses later saw another revenue source to fund his empire. Paid parking lots, paved roads and vendors were installed and it became the “state’s park.” All proceeds went to the state in direct competition with the local tourism businesses, leaving another local industry decimated. The unintended effect was to morph an Olmstead Park into a parasite feeding off the city. The state’s park pays no local taxes, nor shares revenue with the city, in a community where roughly 400 properties a year are lost by residents in tax foreclosure sales.

Roll forward, Hooker changes its name (like someone in the witness protection program) and builds the “Oxy building” as an apology for Love Canal. Like many companies leaving the rust belt, they abandon all but their most profitable holdings here. The Oxy building is left to foreign interests with little more than three magic beans and a pipe dream. The SBA pulls out of Niagara Falls as the building falls into disrepair. The building sits vacant with a giant hole in front of it. Years of standing through Western New York winters almost destroys every mechanical and safety system in the building.

Late in 2004, after extended litigation between warring ownership factions, Parlato — seeing a gem in the rough — acquires a controlling interest in the property. He starts marketing the building and repairing the damage caused by “deferred maintenance”.

In 2005, USA Niagara continues to publicize its vision of a $70,000,000 Experience Center at the Oxy building — to be funded out of the city’s casino revenue. The city, with its casino money being held up and its “arm twisted” by bureaucrats, cites Parlato for code violations that existed for years prior to his ownership.

In 2006, while Parlato’s slingshot is aimed at Goliath, the state’s park. He spends $1,000,000 using licensed contractors and union labor improving the building and filling the hole. Required by the city’s Inspections Department, nearly $500,000 is spent on building code, fire code and health code compliance.

Today, the building is called the “Niagara Center.” All life safety issues have been corrected. There have been minor disagreements between Parlato’s engineers, me and the Inspections Department over interpretations of the building code. These issues present no life safety concerns and have been referred to the Buffalo Regional Office for resolution — again at Parlato’s expense.

Much has been made of the parking lot at One Niagara, mostly by the state’s park and those operating illegal paid parking lots on vacant land with no legitimate operation in Niagara Falls. Paid parking lots are legal when operated accessory to an operating business, just like the paid lots operated by our hospital. At One Niagara, visitors voluntarily pay to park adjacent to the 21,000 square-foot visitor amenity center offering restaurants, entertainment, souvenir sales, tour sales with licensed operators, bathrooms and rest areas.

All the businesses in One Niagara are operated by local taxpaying families with revenues staying here, not going downstate or to multi-million dollar companies with no local presence. All the net revenue to One Niagara is being earmarked to pay down the real estate taxes accruing at over $1,000 per day.

Parlato has also spent tens of thousands on the Niagara Center plan for City Planning Board approval. Both he and the board have been hampered by the state’s park refusal to allow any signage at One Niagara. Additional pre-existing title issues have affected the drainage plan, but these issues have been recently resolved. Until either (a) City Planning decides that it, rather that the state’s park, will control the city’s future plans, or (b) the state’s park rescinds its arbitrary no signage determination, One Niagara is forced to use free-standing temporary signage. No developer desires that, especially considering the huge investment already made.

Inevitably, Planning Board approval will happen. While the Planning Department and Parlato maneuver over the speed bumps laid down by the state’s park, One Niagara will continue to operate as a fully code-compliant, legitimate new business addition to Niagara Falls.

And, one day who knows, rather than sending the police maybe Goliath will send him a little business.

Paul Grenga is an attorney with Meilleur & Grenga in Niagara Falls. He represents Frank Parlato Jr.







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