Niagara Gazette

February 20, 2014

Falls City Council approves One Niagara tax deal

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The city is set to receive a big check from a downtown building owner, but will not get all the money it is owed.

The Niagara Falls City Council approved a settlement with One Niagara LLC, the company that owns the former Occidental Chemical Co. building at 360 Rainbow Blvd., that will see the company pay the city $1.5 million of the $2.3 million it owes in back taxes by a vote of 3 - 2 Wednesday night.

Tony Farina, president of One Niagara, said the company can now move forward with plans for the building, which currently operates as a tourism center and surface parking lot at the site.

“This should open up the opportunity to develop the property to its maximum potential,” he said. “It has unlimited potential given its location, so with this onerous tax issue behind us the opportunity to develop the property grows.”

The company bought the building, which is situated across the street from Niagara Falls State Park, from former owner Frank Parlato, Jr. in 2010.

The assessed value of the building has been challenged ever year since 2009, and the assessment has dropped more than $2 million over that time with the city assessor’s office granting reduced assessments every year until 2013 when the request was denied.

Parlato paid a 2006 tax bill of $311,105 to the city and school district in October of 2008, but no further taxes have been paid since.

Farina would not discuss specific details of plans for the building, but said there are opportunities to continue developing office and retail space, including the possibility of opening up the 9th floor as an observation deck.

“This is a great day for the city of Niagara Falls,” he said.

The company is supposed to pay the city in a lump sum by the end of the month, according to resolution.

However, State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walker, who imposed that deadline, could grant an extension to allow more time for documents to be exacted and a payment to be arranged.

Farina said the company will not have any problems paying future tax bills, despite the large sum of money it will pay to the city in the coming weeks.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Farina said.

Councilman Andrew Touma, who along with Councilman Robert Anderson, Jr. and Councilman Glenn Choolokian provided the necessary votes to approve the settlement, said the vote came down to continuing a long-standing argument or accepting a compromise negotiated and endorsed by Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson’s office and City Assessor James Bird’s office.

“The compromise choice produces additional general fund revenues for the city and guarantees future tax payments,” Touma said. “No one wins if the dispute continues and we have no guarantee that a judge would agree with 100 percent of the city’s position.”

Touma said he feels it is best to settle with One Niagara and try to move past the dispute.

“I don’t agree, necessarily, with the tactics of One Niagara to not pay their taxes,” Touma said. “But, this will be a revenue stream for Niagara Falls moving forward.”

Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti and Council Chairman Charles Walker voted no to the measure.

Grandinetti called the settlement a “slap in the face” to the majority of city property owners who pay their taxes.

“It’s my opinion that we need to let the courts tell us what to do,” she said.

Grandinetti also circulated a press release Wednesday afternoon expanding on her position on the settlement, saying that it would take about 15 city blocks worth of property taxes to make up for the $800,000 the city is forfeiting by agreeing to the settlement.

“What we’re telling One Niagara with this deal, amid their numerous code violations and a history of breaking city ordinances, is that our laws are just suggestions,” Grandinetti said. “If you want to stop paying your taxes, just stop. Wait a few years and the city will voluntarily lower your debts by $800,000.”

In other council news;

• The council approved an agreement with the Isaiah 61 Project that will allow the housing non-profit to pre-dismantle houses set to be razed by city demolition contractors. The agency will salvage desirable material from the houses as a source for their planned reuse center.

• The council approved the sale of the city’s first “Open House Niagara Falls” auction house. Artina Deakyne, who won 452 Memorial Pkwy. for $2,650 at the September auction, will now work out the details of the purchase with the city.

• The council approved a resolution to appoint itself as a temporary committee that will combine and codify multiple documents currently used by the city into one city charter. 

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257