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GLYNN COLUMN: Oxy center plagued by edifice complex

A Line or Two

By Don Glynn

30 March 2006


What a shameful way to celebrate a silver anniversary. Unfortunately, that’s the case with that nine-story office building that owner Frank Parlato Jr. calls “One Niagara.”

For the record, it was 25 years ago that construction on the Hooker Office Building, as it was then known, was completed on that prime two-acre parcel close to the Rainbow Bridge.

That was the first mistake. It should never been built as a regional headquarters for Hooker Chemical & Plastics Corp., later part of Occidental Corp.

Overlooking the nation’s oldest state park and one of the world’s natural wonders, it was ideal for a four-star hotel.

Instead, it housed executives of a company that — despite its positive impact on the local economy — whose name was synonymous with environmental disaster.

In fact, State Comptroller Edward V. Regan initially considered turning down the $13.2 million mortgage application because of many complaints over Hooker’s “record of social responsibility,” an obvious reference to the company’s role in dumping toxic waste in the area.

Today, the building is an embarrassment for one of the major travel destinations in the world.

An ugly fence surrounds the 45-foot pit, dug for the proposed state-of-the-art AquaFalls several years ago.

After it was finally determined that the sharks, eels, piranhas and 6,000 other species were headed elsewhere, the building owners suddenly realized they would need about 3,500 truck loads of fill to restore the front lawn. They’re still not at street level.

This milestone should not pass without a reminder that the ‘Flash Cube’ was once featured in magazines and newspapers around the country. Cannon Design was the architect for the building, a model for promoting energy efficiency.

A writer for Progressive Architecture, a trade journal, suggested the new structure would be a key factor in the fight to rebuild a hopelessly eroding urban core in the Cataract City.

Hooker always took pride in the premises. When something went wrong, repairs were made the same day. (Now it’s more likely you’ll find an “Out of Order” sign or duct tape.)

During the now-defunct A Festival of Lights, the entire south side of the glass building was used as the stage for the spectacular “OxyLights,” a display of moving lights and music.

Subsequently, Occidental downsized, with many in its management ranks relocating to Dallas. The building underwent some ownership changes that proved negative at every turn.

It’s been downhill from that day and even worse under Parlato.

The grass surrounding the building was removed for a makeshift parking lot ($5 all day), complete with an attendant trying to deter motorists from choosing the state parking lot ($10).

In a tacky attempt to use two upper floors for a billboard, a homemade sign pointed toward the Moses Parkway exit asks passersby to stop the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project.

In earlier days, architect Mark Mendell predicted the Hooker building would be interesting to watch “in action.”

He explained that from the Rainbow Bridge, the building would change from transparent on the left half to largely opaque on the right at certain times. “The sides will vary constantly, depending on weather, the time of the year, and time of day. It may not be a pot of gold, but the Rainbow should end well, anyway,” he added.

Under Parlato’s ownership, it’s hard to make out any rainbow these days.










Copyright © Frank Parlato Jr.