By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — A pair of developers will compete for the opportunity to develop the former Rainbow Centre mall building.
The developers — Intertrust Development, Inc. and Uniland Development Company — were chosen from those that submitted applications as part of a request for qualifications process administered by USA Niagara Development Corp., Empire State Development’s local arm.
Chris Schoepflin, USA Niagara’s president, said the development of the former mall is complicated, both because of the amount space to be developed and significant changes that will be made to the building.
The state agency opted to use a two-step process for the space — with the request for qualifications to come before the request for proposals — to ensure that any companies submitting proposals would have the means and the expertise to execute their plans, he added.
“These two were chosen because they have an extraordinary track record of investment in urban cores,” Schoepflin said.
The announcement came during the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council’s monthly meeting held at the Conference and Events Center Niagara Falls, just a few hundred feet from the future development site, Tuesday afternoon.
Both developers have submitted preliminary plans for development of the 200,000-square-foot downtown space, but declined to go into detail as they will be competing with one another for the opportunity to pursue their respective projects.
The Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, which opened last fall after a $30 million development project that included state investment and oversight from USA Niagara, takes up about 90,000 square feet of the former mall on the building’s south end.
USA Niagara will choose a preferred developer for the space after the companies submit their applications. The winning company will likely be announced before the end of the year, Schoepflin said.
Intertrust Development, the U.S. arm of Canadian hotel company owned by the DiCienzo family, said its plans would involve themed franchise restaurants, retail space and a hotel, according to a press release from Empire State Development.
The DiCienzo family owns a string of hotels in Ontario and several in Niagara Falls, N.Y. including the Days Inn on Main Street, which is undergoing a $10.9 million renovation, $1.5 million of which will be provided by USA Niagara.
The DiCienzos have listed several well-known companies, including LP Ciminelli, JCJ Architecture and Landry’s — the company that operates restaurants like the Rainforest Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp — as partners on the project.
Michael DiCienzo, who attended the meeting, said his family continues to see opportunity on the American side of the gorge.
“We’ve always done quite well in the market place,” he said. “We’ve certainly felt that there are voids in the market which we intend to fill.”
Uniland, an Amherst company with projects throughout Western New York, announced similar plans with hotel, retail, restaurants and themed attractions aimed at extending visitors’ stays. They have also included an extension of the culinary institute in their preliminary plans.
Uniland would work with Cannon Design and Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts should they be identified as the lead developer on the project.
Kellena Kane, a real estate development manager for the company, said Uniland has had an interest in expanding into Niagara County for a few years.
“I think we’re realizing that there is a need for some positive development and some successful projects in Niagara Falls,” Kane said.
Empire State Development commissioned the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research organization, to study the space and provide guidance on the best uses of the long-defunct mall. The institute’s eight-member panel spent five days in the Falls in September, providing recommendations that included tapping into the potential created by the culinary institute and creating a more upscale experience to attract visitors who will stay longer and spend more money.
Mayor Paul Dyster, who is one of the representatives on the development council, said interest from well-known developers is a sign of downtown Niagara Falls moving in the right direction.
“These are two very capable, very qualified developers that probably wouldn’t have come near a project in downtown Niagara Falls five years ago,” he said. “Clearly something is changing about the market here.”
Dyster said a number of factors — the opening up of Old Falls Street, the city’s partnership with USA Niagara, the Urban Land Institute’s visit — have led to a renewed interest in Niagara Falls.
“It seems to me that, sort of, all of that is coming together,” he said.
Howard Zemsky, the co-chair of the Western New York branch of the regional council, said that money from the “Buffalo Billion” may be available as part of an incentive package for the chosen preferred developer.
“Tourism is one of our focus industries and Niagara Falls is significant component of our strategy,” Zemsky said.
Zemsky said he was not sure how much money might be available for the former mall’s redevelopment because the projects are still in the preliminary planning stages.
The mall redevelopment could be one part of the revitalization of the city that will compliment other projects already under way like alterations to the Robert Moses Parkway and further development of “outdoor adventure” attractions in the state parks, Zemsky said.
“This is one of the pieces of the puzzle,” he said. “There isn’t any one single project that is going to transform Niagara Falls.”
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257