A hearing scheduled for Aug. 17 for a building code variance for One Niagara, the nine-story glass building at the corner of Rainbow Boulevard South and Niagara Street, could affect a permit that allows the first floor of the building to remain open to the public.
The building’s owner, Frank Parlato Jr., is seeking a waiver from interior building codes that could restrict work he has already done to renovate the first floor of the former Occidental Corp. office building.
While Parlato has already opened the first floor of the building to a mall-like setting, the floor plan may not meet the state’s codes. He is seeking a determination from the Uniform Code Regional Board of Review.
That means that a flurry of activity — from a gravel parking lot outside the building to souvenir and food vendors inside — could be shut down if the building does not get the proper approvals for changes already made to the site.
Although Parlato and city inspectors agree that codes involving safety issues for the building have been met, Parlato’s temporary certificate of occupancy is set to expire next month. He still needs additional approvals from the city.
The building at 360 Rainbow Blvd. — the site of the failed AquaFalls project to turn the structure into an underground aquarium — has long been a blemish on the city’s downtown tourism area. Parlato filled a 40-foot gaping hole in front of the building earlier this year after years of complaints about the site.
Last year, the city’s Department of Inspections cited Parlato for violating three city ordinances by operating a paid parking lot and allowing vendors to sell souvenirs on the property. Parlato and the city signed a stipulation of settlement April 25 that gave him six months to bring align the building with the city’s regulations.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Chris Mazur declined to release the terms of the settlement because of “on-going litigation.”
Since then, the building’s case has bounced between the city’s departments of law, inspections and planning, said Mayor Vince Anello.
Meanwhile, the building has fallen behind in $620,517 in unpaid city, school and county taxes on the building.
“I know that we’re trying to do two things: One, cooperate with the property owner, and two, make sure that all the rules and regulations are followed,” Anello said.
Parlato has not yet received approval from the city’s Planning Board for changes he has already made to the outside of the building, including adding a gravel parking and large signs in the windows of the glass structure.
In the meantime, the city issued a temporary certificate of occupancy that allows him to operate a kitchen coffee house and souvenir shop on the first floor of the building. It does not allow him to open the rest of the building to the public.
“This place can be very successful,” Parlato said. “We’re parking as many cars as they park. We’re getting lots of people through our doors and they’re getting ideas to do things other than just go to the park.”
Thomas DeSantis, the city’s senior planner, sent a memorandum to the city’s corporation counsel July 25 notifying the city’s attorneys that plans Parlato and his attorney, Paul Grenga, have submitted for the site were withdrawn from the Planning Board’s agenda because they did “not comply with the city’s codified ordinances.”
DeSantis said proposed drainage on the parking lot crossed a strip of private property not owned by One Niagara. Parlato disputes the claim to the land.
Parlato said he plans to resubmit his plans with new improvements to the city’s Planning Board. He said he has taken great strides to improve the building, but is now being held up by non-safety compliance issues.
“I’ve taken no government money. I haven’t donated to any politicians, and I’m running a successful operation. It’s obviously against the status quo,” Parlato said. “We’re breaking the mold and we have to do things differently.”
Contact Denise Jewellat 282-2311, ext. 2245.