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A plan is in the works to build a 57-story hotel and two more high-rise buildings on a prime piece of real estate overlooking the Horseshoe Falls in Canada.

The developer maintains that the project being proposed for the property which has been home to the Loretto Christian Life Centre for 148 years will provide patrons with a glorious view and jobs for perhaps as many as 1,000 people.

Opponents fear construction of high-rise building so near the Falls will have profound implications for the natural environment of the surrounding area and could detract from the experience of Americans and American visitors looking across the river to Canada.

“This will ruin the view from the American side,” said Catherine Buchanon, author “The Day the Falls Stood Still,” a novel that chronicles the early days of hydroelectric development on the Niagara River. “There’s seven acres of greenspace around the Loretto Academy that could conceivably become concrete and glass.”

The Loretto academy sits on a 7-acre parcel atop the Falls on the Canadian side. It is currently owned by Romzap, Ltd which purchased it in 2006 from the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Romzap believes the parcel is ideally suited for a 57-story hotel as well as two other high-rises that could be opened as either hotels or condominiums. If completed, the proposed 57-story structure would be taller than the Hilton hotel on Fallsview Boulevard, which at 53 stories is currently the city’s tallest building.

The developer was successful in its bid to have the property added to the city’s Tourist Area Development Strategy, a set of guidelines that establish acceptable locations and standards for high-rise development in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The company is now in the process of putting together a series of studies on the project’s potential impact in anticipation of making a formal request to the Falls city council for a change in zoning that would allow the development to proceed.

Romzap, owner and prominent Falls hotelier Tony Zappitelli said the project represents a potential investment in the city of about $250 million and would bring with it a wealth of new jobs and visitors to the area.

“It’s a fantastic site,” he said.  

As part of its hotel proposal, Romzap has agreed to preserve 1.6 acres of greenspace at the front of the academy building as well as the building itself.

“This development is not wall-to-wall with concrete on the property,” Zappitelli said.

Buchanan and other members of a group called Friends of Niagara Falls aren’t so sure. The grassroots organization has developed a Web site and created an online petition in an effort to put a stop to the project’s construction.

The Friends say the project will contribute to an existing concern above the Falls on the Canadian side. They cite reports from the Niagara Parks Commission, which owns and maintains the tract of Canadian parkland running along the river, that suggest misty days have more than doubled since the advent of high-rise buildings on the Canadian side. They point to a report from engineering consultant Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin which suggests the high-rises are causing airflow alterations that are drawing vapor toward the land and causing an increase in rain and mist conditions. At certain points during the year, they also maintain that such a tall building would cast a shadow over parts of Queen Victoria Park and would span the river as the sun sets, causing Terrapin Point on Goat Island on the American side to experienced darkened conditions as much as 90 minutes earlier per day.

“There are absolutely going to be people who think that the development is beneficial, but Niagara Falls is a natural wonder of the world,” Buchanan said. “I think a large part of the attraction is seeing it in its natural glory.”

Zappitelli said shadow diagrams already completed at the direction of his company show the impact of the building on the parks would be nowhere near as profound as some have suggested. He noted that his company is in the process of performing a variety of studies in anticipation of an upcoming city council vote on the request for re-zoning of the parcel. He said the ongoing analysis includes heritage, archeological, wind, tree, shadow and other studies as required by the council itself. In the end, he said, the study findings will be used by council members to determine if the re-zoning request should be granted. Zappitelli said there’s no firm timeframe for completion of the studies, but his company would like to have them completed as soon as possible.

“All of these studies that we are doing are part of the re-zoning process,” Zappitelli said. “We are working on these reports. If there are any concerns, we would outline that.”

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