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REDEVELOPMENT PLAN CLEARS PLANNING BOARD HEARING

The wide-ranging redevelopment concept aimed at restoring this city to prominence as a tourist mecca while also rebuilding the local economy, sailed through a sparsely attended public hearing Wednesday with no significant opposition.

The Planning Board is expected to routinely endorse the concept at a meeting at 6 p.m. next Wednesday in City Hall, with City Council approval expected to follow on April 6.

Only a handful of people attended Wednesday's Planning Board hearing at which Richard T. Reinhard reviewed the three major components of the redevelopment plan. Reinhard is chief operating officer of Niagara Falls Redevelopment Corp., the private group that plans to invest $130 million here in the next eight years.

Reinhard noted that the plan was discussed publicly at "dozens of community meetings" and at three public comment sessions before it was presented to city officials on Jan. 20.

Questions at Wednesday's hearing related mainly to the proposed closing of part of the Robert Moses Parkway, the acquisition of privately owned property in the redevelopment area, and whether it was desirable to include plans for a gambling casino.

Reinhard said the key provisions of the plan include:

Developing a "great park" along the Niagara River at the American Falls and the gorge below the falls, including removal of the Robert Moses Parkway in that area, demolition of the aging observation tower near Prospect Point, and the creation of a "world-class" visitors' center and museum.

Reopening the Old Falls Street pedestrian walkway as a city street for vehicles as well as pedestrians, thus providing an area for retail shops and other vendors and perhaps "a couple of new convention hotels."

Building an entertainment center with an urban park, retail commercial space and possibly a gambling casino on the East Side site that was once proposed for a mega-mall shopping center.

Reinhard said planners also want to study the feasibility of building a people-mover, perhaps a light railway line, that would serve the project area and could connect with a new people-mover system being planned in Niagara Falls, Ont., on the Canadian side of the river.

In other business on Wednesday, the Planning Board:

Approved the rezoning of the LaSalle High School property at 1400 Military Road for future commercial use by the Benderson Development Co. Inc. The property had been zoned for residential use, but Benderson wants to market it for commercial use after LaSalle High School is consolidated with a new city-wide high school to be opened in the yer 2000 on city-owned land off Porter Road.

Approved a special permit for the construction of a 108-unit nationally-franchised hotel and rathskeller restaurant, with 10,000 square feet of retail sales space, at 100 Niagara St., near the site of the former Envoy Motor Inn, which was destroyed by fire in 1995.

Approved a special permit for a Maaco Auto Painting and Body Works store at 5544 Porter Road, across from Sam's Club warehouse store.

Approved the sale of surplus city-owned property at 1037 Centre Ave. and at 1300 Willow Ave.

Elected Norma Higgs of Augustus Place to a one-year term as chairwoman of the Planning Board, and Hal Faba of Macklem Avenue as vice chairman.

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