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After auction, Wintergarden to be one step closer to its final harvest

A family fun center that has operated in the former Wintergarden on Rainbow Boulevard for more than two years will shut down after Thanksgiving as the building's owner prepares to demolish the site.

Bronstein Auctioneers will publicly auction bounce houses, spotlights, heating equipment, windows, doors and other fixtures at 10 a.m. Saturday in the building.

Lewiston businessman Joseph Anderson said the auction is the first step toward preparing the 107-foot-tall glass structure for demolition. He has approached state and county officials with a plan to construct an upscale hotel and restaurant on the site and has commissioned concept drawings of the project.

"It's in the preliminary stages right now," Anderson said. "With the right combination, I think that the state and the city and everybody will come on board."

Smokin' Joe's Family Fun Center will close at the end of this month after a youth hockey tournament in the city ends, Anderson said.

Wintergarden Entertainment, a company led by Anderson, purchased the glass and iron atrium from the city for $1 million in 2003. The building, constructed with Urban Renewal Agency funds in 1977, housed a public garden for 25 years.

Since 2005, the building has housed a fun center for children with jump houses, a play maze and video games.

Anderson said the glass atrium is a roadblock for tourists walking from the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel to Niagara Falls State Park. He believes that building a hotel tower on the site with open space would be a better use for the land.

Other city leaders agree.

"The building, I'd say, from the beginning of time, never lived up to its purpose. It's just a barrier for people to get to the falls," said Councilman Sam Fruscione, who is a member of the city's Tourism Advisory Board. "It's always been, in my mind, since the day they built it, the wrong thing for the wrong place."

Members of a group that sought to save the Wintergarden from demolition in 2002 have expressed concern about razing the building, which was designed by architect Cesar Pelli. Pelli also designed the World Financial Center in New York City and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

The state's Niagara Falls development office, USA Niagara Development Corp., and the city have spent more than $6 million to upgrade several blocks within the vicinity to make the area more welcoming for tourists and businesses.

Anderson, who operates the Smokin' Joe's gasoline chain, is also a managing partner in a company that owns the Quality Hotel and Suites at 240 Rainbow Blvd. and another company that holds a vending lease for the city's East Pedestrian Mall.

He said he has not yet finalized plans to demolish the former Wintergarden.

"This is the first step," Anderson said of the auction. "I don't want to make a move and make a mistake."


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