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Condemned offices still not up to code, inspector says

But inside building, it's business as usual

Gail Franklin
News Niagara Bureau

24 August 2006

NIAGARA FALLS - City Inspections Director Guy Bax said that he decided this week to condemn a building operated by developer Frank Parlato Jr. because electrical and fire safety changes were promised but not delivered.

"We've made more than a good faith effort expecting [building code] compliance, which we have not yet achieved," Bax said Wednesday of the property at 360 Rainbow Blvd., near the brink of the American falls. "They've been contacted continuously for quite some time as to what the ultimate decision would be if they didn't [bring the building up to code]."

Bax posted a condemned sign on the nine-story former Occidental Chemical office building - now Niagara Center - on Saturday, but Parlato has continued to allow vendors on the first floor to sell food and souvenirs to tourists all week. The mostly vacant building is across the street from Niagara Falls State Park.

"As far as the city, we believe that we have done our job and due diligence . . . and the owner has been sent a certified letter to that effect, and we posted the placard," Bax said. "If someone enters into those premises and, God forbid, is injured, then the owner will bear the onus of responsibility."

Parlato said Tuesday that he sees no big fire safety issues in his building, but Bax countered on Wednesday, saying, "If they were minor, we wouldn't have closed the building."

Parlato has operated the property for most of the summer under a June temporary certificate of occupancy. He also has an April 25 "stipulation of settlement" with the city, in which he agreed to bring his building up to safety and fire codes and apply for various permits and site plan approval by October.

In exchange, the city would drop its lawsuit over sidewalk, vendor and parking code violations filed last year in City Court, and Parlato would be able to operate souvenir and food sales throughout the summer "as if said approvals have been granted," according to the document.

Council Chairman Charles Walker has said he feels the agreement sends the wrong message to other developers, who are required to go before the Planning Board before they renovate buildings or change the use.

While Bax told the Council last month that the structure was building-code compliant, he said Wednesday that at that point he believed it was "99.9 percent compliant."

Parlato received a building code variance last week from the state's Western Regional Board of Review, with the stipulation that he install a new line of sprinklers. However, the two city inspectors and a fire investigator who attended the hearing did not tell the board that they were still waiting for proof that the building otherwise complied with the fire code.

Bax said he inspected the property again Wednesday morning and noticed some contractors had been called to address the fire alarm system and electrical wiring.

Parlato's attorney, Paul Grenga, said the contractors are finishing up the remaining $10,000 worth of work, and he expects the building will be fully compliant this week.

Grenga said he and a city attorney met briefly with a city judge Wednesday morning, but nothing was decided. The next court appearance on last year's code violations charges is set for Monday.







Copyright © Frank Parlato Jr.