Cordish Co. has had "advanced" discussions with city leaders about building a NASCAR Sports Grille in the nearly vacant Rainbow Centre Factory Outlet.
Representatives for the Baltimore-based company, which holds the lease to the mall, have spoken with Mayor Vince Anello and members of his administration about the possibility of locating the sports-themed restaurant in the mall but have not committed to the project.
Taylor Gray, Cordish director of development, confirmed last week that a "NASCAR experience" is one of the possibilities the development company is exploring for the shopping center on Rainbow Boulevard.
The city-owned property is within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park and has been mostly empty for six years. Cordish Co., which built the 200,000-square-foot mall in partnership with the city, holds a lease on the building until 2056.
The mall currently has only two visible tenants, both restaurants accessible from the ground floor.
Anello and two city employees in October traveled to Baltimore to discuss the shopping complex with company owner David Cordish, but plans for rejuvenating the mall have been slow to materialize.
The mayor confirmed that the city has had discussions with Cordish representatives about a NASCAR-themed attraction but said that it is too early to release details of a potential project.
Cordish last year signed a deal with NASCAR to develop and operate restaurants under the name NASCAR Sports Grille. The company owns two NASCAR-themed restaurants in Orlando, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Both restaurants previously operated under the name NASCAR Cafe.
NASCAR spokesman Scott Warfield said Cordish holds a "multiyear" deal to develop restaurants under the NASCAR name and is currently renovating the Myrtle Beach location. The Orlando site reopened in February after being remodeled.
"They have rights, obviously, to explore other locations down the road," Warfield said of Cordish. "They are already exploring expansion possibilities."
Ralph F. Aversa, executive director of the city's NFC Development Corp., said Gray requested information last week about structural improvements needed at the city-owned ramp attached to the mall.
Aversa characterized the discussions over the NASCAR-themed restaurant as "advanced."
"People say tear down Rainbow Centre. I think it's a lot more complex than that," Aversa said. "I think there's a keen interest on Cordish's part to get the mall up and running."
Cordish pays the city $107,488 a year to lease the mall, including ground lease fees and payments in lieu of property taxes. The city must provide parking spaces to Cordish in the city-owned ramp attached to the mall.
The city has paid more than $500,000 a year to subsidize the ramp's operation.
Cordish also owns and operates a Hard Rock Cafe on Prospect Street.
The company has developed successful shopping and entertainment complexes across the country, including a strip on the inner harbor in Baltimore that features an ESPN Zone, a Hard Rock Cafe, Barnes & Noble and loft offices.