CITYCIDE: Aquapit fiasco finally fades into history
By David Staba
25 April 2006
Joke no longer.
The developmental disgrace known as AquaFalls, and later AquaPit, officially disappeared from the downtown landscape -- if not the collective psyche of Niagara Falls -- late last week.
The hole that provided the punchline for hundreds of jokes since it was dug in 1999 all but vanished, filled to near-street grade as of Friday afternoon by loads carried by dozens of dump trucks. At least as significantly, the fading fence boards that cruelly promised a multimillion-dollar underground aquarium would be "Coming Soon" since last century also disappeared.
Frank Parlato, who purchased the former Occidental headquarters at the foot of the Rainbow Bridge in late 2004, was asked what happened to the notorious signs that blocked the view of the building for a generation of tourists.
"I burned them," he said, his smile not clarifying whether he was kidding.
Renovations are also ongoing inside the building best known as "The Flashcube."
The offices that occupied more than half the first floor have been gutted, creating a massive open space that Parlato said will be filled with a variety of vendors for the coming tourist season.
The Buffalo businessman took flak from some quarters last year over the tents set up for vendors on the side of the building across the street from Niagara Falls State Park. His proposal to have the city bond the demolition of the building to make room for a park and parking lot combination floundered after FBI agents visited City Hall, asking questions about nearly every deal involving the administration of Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello.
Instead of leveling the building, Parlato said he wants to turn it into a welcome center for tourists. He's in talks to partner with a number of local businesses to put together a smorgasbord of international food choices, a play area for children and information booths for visitors. A door on the park side of the building will be installed, he said, allowing easy access for tourists.
As for the former pit, the chain-link fence surrounding it will come down after wood and iron beams that were used to stabilize the hole are removed. Some of the reclaimed area will be used for parking, with a landscaped green area closer to the building, Parlato said.
On the Niagara Street side of the building, he said he wants to put together a display welcoming tourists entering the city from Canada.
Whatever he comes up with, it almost certainly has to be better than the nondescript green sign erected by the state, which fails to include a picture or graphic depicting the cataract or even the words "Niagara Falls." It does, however, carry the name "Gov. George Pataki" in very large letters.
David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © Frank Parlato Jr.