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Urban Land Institute concludes week-long analysis of reuse for balance of Rainbow Centre Mall in Niagara Falls

by jmaloni

Press release

Fri, Sep 28th 2012 08:10 pm

ULI presents scenarios to the public that complement the setting of the space next to the new culinary institute and near Niagara Falls State Park

The Urban Land Institute advisory panel presented a summary Friday of its conclusions and recommendations after a week-long analysis of potential reuses of the former Rainbow Centre Shopping Mall in downtown Niagara Falls. A total of 200,000 square feet of reuse-ready space on two levels remain in the building with the new $26 million Niagara Falls Culinary Institute occupying the balance of the former mall and supported by a recently rehabilitated 1,600-space parking structure.

"Today's event is a continuation of Governor Cuomo's commitment to strengthening and revitalizing Niagara Falls and the entire Western New York region," said Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. "The governor brought in the renowned Urban Land Institute to give us the best plan for reusing the Rainbow Centre Mall so we can repurpose the space for new uses that best fit the needs of the City of Niagara Falls and its residents. Now that the plan has been completed, we can more easily attract private investment helping to bring in new businesses, create jobs and turn the Rainbow Centre Mall into a new and exciting component (in) the city."

The ULI panelists - composed of eight experts from across the nation, all qualified professionals in design, real estate and government - volunteered their time this week, staying in Niagara Falls to study the property and its context. After a reception with community stakeholders on Monday, they interviewed 70 key public and private officials and community leaders on Tuesday to gain their unique insights into the region, the market and the mall property itself. The ULI panelists spent the remainder of the week developing their conclusions.

"We offered three workable design concepts for the former Rainbow Centre Mall site with recommendations for a variety of uses that meet both resident and visitor market demands," said panel Chair Glenda Hood, president of Hood Partners LLC, and the former mayor of Orlando, Fla. "We also suggest strategies to realize the potential for the surrounding area and to recognize that the keys to success are collaboration and partnerships."

The panel's conclusions included recommendations under three major themes: market-based use scenarios; design-based strategies addressing the building itself; and implementation methods. The panel developed a series of possible re-use scenarios based upon what recent market assessments suggest that is in demand downtown. Many of these scenarios directly complement the setting of the space next to the culinary institute and near Niagara Falls State Park. The panel also made a series of specific design recommendations to address the building's monolithic scale; turning its uses "inside-out" to create more active street-level activities; and dealing with "back-of-house" services such as waste management and deliveries. In terms of implementation, the panel offered insights on some of the former mall's surrounding uses and areas, linkages to the state park, and methods to procure private developers for adaptive reuse efforts.

USA Niagara Development Corp., in cooperation with the City of Niagara Falls, and with the assistance of National Grid and the ULI Foundation, sponsored the effort. Similar efforts by ULI have been successfully conducted across the country, most recently in Western New York at the former Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital and the former Buffalo Psychiatric Center (now known as the Richardson-Olmsted Complex) in Buffalo.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the Niagara Falls community and for Western New York," said Dennis Elsenbeck, regional executive for National Grid. "The advisory panel's insights will help us realize the full economic development potential of this important regional asset."

"The Urban Land Institute is recognized as one of the world's most respected sources of objective information on urban planning, growth and development so to get its recommendations for the remaining space in the former Rainbow Centre Mall brings confidence to the private investors and developers who may be interested in the property," said City of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster. "Having ULI in town has helped us tremendously to understand how best to adapt and reuse this existing real estate and build off the city's existing momentum. I thank Governor Cuomo and USAN for their commitment to this project."

Through a Development Agreement with the City of Niagara Falls, USA Niagara Development Corp. is exclusively charged with planning and soliciting the reuse/redevelopment of the remaining city-owned space in the building.

"We're thankful to the panel of distinguished experts and ULI staff who dedicated so much knowledge and energy to this assignment and we look forward to advancing their efforts by working to leverage additional significant development and investment in the former Rainbow Centre," said USA Niagara Development Corp. President Christopher Schoepflin.

In September, the southern portion of the former mall fronting on Old Falls Street re-opened as the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, housing Niagara County Community College's hospitality, culinary and tourism programs, along with a number of new food-and-beverage and retail establishments.

However, the property is not without its challenges that will complicate future reuse. For example, the design of the structure is somewhat unconventional; the former shopping mall space is incorporated into the structural design of the City parking ramp. Also, in many locations along its street faces, the ground floor elevations of the building do not match the adjoining sidewalk elevations. Additionally, the former mall had been designed as a traditional inwardly oriented shopping mall and its systems/services support this orientation, thus requiring refinements to facilitate uses that would activate its adjoining street faces.

Founded in 1936, ULI is composed of more than 38,000 members, representing the entire spectrum of the land use and development disciplines, including architects, planners, real estate brokers, builders, attorneys, and engineers. It has long been recognized as one of the world's most respected and most reliable sources of objective information on urban planning, growth and real estate development. As part of its mission, the institute maintains an advisory services department for the purpose of benefiting the general public through improved planning and utilization of urban land.

USAN, a subsidiary of Empire State Development Corp., is solely dedicated to the support and promotion of economic development initiatives in Niagara Falls by leveraging private investment and encouraging growth and renewal of the tourism industry in the City of Niagara Falls.

For more information, visit www.usaniagara.com.

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