Niagara Gazette — When Baltimore developer David Cordish gave the Rainbow Centre Mall building to Niagara County Community College he said a downtown culinary school could be a "game changer" for the city.
After a media tour this past week, we agree with Cordish.
It's hard to imagine this cutting-edge cooking school not providing an infusion of money and energy into the downtown area.
Hi-tech classrooms and kitchens help train culinary and tourism students for positions in the service industry, which a recent national report showed was the only industry currently showing growth.
The cooking-themed Barnes and Noble bookstore, complete with a demo-station for the students, will entertain tourists and locals, as will the new deli, coffee shop, wine shop and upscale streetside restaurant, all set to be open in the fall. More importantly, the school will keep Old Falls Street cooking with activity, during and after the tourism season.
The institute is a magnificent reminder that good things can happen when people work together.
Leaders at the city, county and state level opened their wallets and pooled their power to create educational opportunities and a culinary destination in a region starving for something to believe in.
Any visitor to the site will see for themselves that this place is a win for Niagara.
NCCC President James Klyczek said at the media tour that he found it hard to believe the culinary institute he'd dreamed about for years was finally a reality. We feel the same. It is a real triumph in an uncertain economy and concrete evidence that what so many say so often about how things can't get done in Niagara Falls isn't always true.
According to Chris Schoepflin, president of the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp., this was a project that required the cooperation and approval of at least eight different entities.
Of course, there's still more work to be done.
The school takes up about one-third of the former mall. There is still about 200,000 square feet available that the city and state will be marketing to private and public investors.
USA Niagara, which has successfully led efforts to find a developer to build a hotel across the street — complete with shops and rooms — is continuing to work to find a way to keep the momentum going.
A "familiarization tour" of downtown Niagara Falls on Thursday, which began at the culinary center and which included other downtown triumphs such as the Giacomo Hotel, the downtown conference center and the site of the adjacent hotel to be built by developer Mark Hamister, seem to impress the 100 or so development professionals who attended.
"If you can do this, you can do anything," said Henry Sloma, director of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
We agree with him, as well.
We're hoping that others are paying attention, including the leaders of Niagara University, who have also been talking about a project downtown which would fortify the university's own tourism and culinary programs.
NU's leaders have always demonstrated their wish to be servant leaders in the Niagara Falls community as well, and we are looking foward to more of that in our downtown region, if the school can make that happen. We hope they can.
So, here is a big bravo and a standing ovation to all those who helped cook up the NCCC Culinary Institute.
On behalf of the community we all serve, thank you.