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FALLS STREET WOULD BE SPINE IN REDEVELOPMENT

Old Falls Street, which disappeared from the life and fabric of the city to make way for a failed urban renewal project, could be reincarnated in the multimillion redevelopment of downtown planned by a group of international investors.

And the Wintergarden might have to be modified or torn down to make the plan work.

Bruce Jolley, director of planning for the Jerde Partnership International Inc., said Thursday that the firm "would like to bring the life back to Falls Street," which was such a centerpiece of the city before it was leveled by urban renewal 25 years ago.

"We might very well end up with something that looks like Old Falls Street," he told about 200 people at the Best Western Inn on the River to hear feedback from two community workshops held in September and preliminary concepts that the Jerde firm has drawn from the community.

The Niagara Falls Redevelopment Corp., the group of investors who say they will infuse at least $130 million into the downtown area over the next eight years to turn Niagara Falls into a world-class tourist destination, hired Jon Jerde and his California firm as master planners and architects for the project.

Jolley said the Jerde partnership builds retail entertainment centers with festival atmospheres such as Horton Plaza in San Diego and the Mall of the Americas in Minnesota.

From comments at the community workshops, the concepts of water and park would be key themes in the development.

Areas closest to the Niagara River would be kept natural and those further away glitzy and active, redevelopment officials said. The themes of romance and industry also were cited frequently.

Falls Street from the Convention Center to Prospect Point would become the spine of the redeveloped area, Jolley said. Downtown would be divided into four areas, including Falls Street, Buffalo Avenue, Rainbow Boulevard and the former mega-mall site.

After seeing photos of Old Falls Street, Jolley "was shocked at what a wonderful street it used to be, a great grand boulevard."

Jolley said the Wintergarden poses a problem in the design scheme. He said planners are reviewing all options from renovation to opening it up to demolition.

The glass structure, intended as a haven of tropical greenery protected from Western New York winters, has sparked controversy since it was built. Many residents and officials have complained that it acts as a wall separating the falls and surrounding park from the city and impeding the flow of traffic and commerce.

In keeping with the importance of water and parkland, William G. Mayne Jr., chairman of the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Greater Niagara Elected Leaders have applied to the Empire State Development Corp. for a grant to study creation of a Unified Waterfront Plan linking park areas and green spaces from the Upper Niagara River in Wheatfield to Lake Ontario.

Mayne said elected leaders from area towns, cities and villages set as their highest priority creating "one large park that surrounds and enhances the Cataracts."

Suzanne Barrett of Ontario's Waterfront Regeneration Trust said cooperation will be needed to bring the vision to fruition. She said the focus has to be on "the whole pie, not just my little piece of it." To accomplish that, she said, the public dialogue begun in September should continue.

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