In the 1950’s, the two blocks that stretched between First and Third streets where a parking lot stands today had shops, residential buildings and a police station.

Five decades and one demolished parking ramp later, city and state planners are looking for a proposal to develop the site into an area where people once again want to live, work and play.

If successful, a “request for expressions of interest” issued by the state’s USA Niagara Development Corp. and the city could bring the blocks full circle to what once stood on the site half a century ago.

The city, in its urban renewal days, demolished the commercial buildings between Third and First streets and turned the site into a five-story parking garage that spanned two blocks. Officials changed the name of First Street to Rainbow Boulevard North.

Then two years ago, officials tore down the aging parking ramp and replaced it with with a surface lot that opened last year on the 3.3-acre city-owned plot of land that fronts Niagara Street.

Now, city and state planners are looking for a proposal to develop the site to once again invigorate the neighborhood just a few blocks from where the Rainbow Bridge enters the city from Ontario. Officials also plan to change the name of Rainbow Boulevard North back to First Street.

The request leaves open the possibilities for building on the site, but suggests that the winning proposal will fit into the city’s vision under its strategic master plan to turn the Niagara Street corridor into a “great commercial street” with active ground-level uses.

USA Niagara President Chris Schoepflin said the agency is looking for a “dense pattern of mixed-used development.”

Proposals could include a mix of retail and hotel, lifestyle centers with residential, health and entertainment facilities or urban-scale retail and office space, according to a 31-page application for the project.

Any proposal for the site would have to include parking for the adjacent Holiday Inn Select, which currently holds a contract with the city to use a portion of the lot. The state is paying about a third of the $22 million cost to renovate the hotel into a Crown Plaza.

USA Niagara officials expect the hotel upgrade to support the nearby Conference Center Niagara Falls, which was also built through state funds.

Proposals for the site are due May 26.

Mayor Vince Anello said Monday that the city has received interest in developing the Niagara Street plot because the site is “shovel ready” after the city demolished the parking garage.

The city is still paying off about $2.05 million in debt on the land from its initial construction and its 2004 demolition.

The surface parking lot on the site brought in $302,500 last year. That money was put toward debt and operating.

Contact Denise Jewellat 282-2311, ext. 2245.

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