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KMART SELLS, BUT FALLS BUILDING STILL HAS NO TAKERS

Real estate developer Frank A. Amendola and a business partner have sold the Military Road Kmart property for more than three times what Amendola has been able to attract for his six-story Niagara Office Building in downtown Niagara Falls.

Amendola and Joseph P. Bruno sold the Kmart store to Niagara Holdings Inc. of Atlanta for $3.1 million on July 31, without even trying, according to Amendola and Gregory M. Gismondi, Amendola's property manager.

The two said they were approached by a California broker who specializes in selling Kmart stores. They said Niagara Holdings has been buying Kmart properties throughout the country. "It was a very, very good deal for us," Gismondi said.

Amendola said the buyers paid cash for the property at 2590 Military Road and the lease with Kmart Corp. Officials of Niagara Holdings Inc. could not be reached to comment.

It was a better deal than Amendola has been able to get for the prominent Niagara Falls Office building, formerly the Carborundum Center, in its prime downtown location at 345 Third St.

Frustrated by the downtown business climate and disgusted by an inability to strike a deal with city officials to lower the assessment on the building, Amendola said this week he is thinking of moving his real estate and property management offices out of the Niagara Office Building and back to Military Road.

And, Amendola will be back in the movie business. As of Monday, he said he will start operating the Four Season's theaters, which he also owns, after the estate of the former operator was settled.

Amendola said his plight with the Niagara Office Building is a sign of the times in Niagara Falls.

"Don't talk about yesterday's mistakes or tomorrow's dreams," he said. "I am today's reality when it comes to downtown commercialism."

Amendola currently has five lawsuits against the city -- four of them over the building's assessment for the years 1995-1998 -- and an environmental claim over underground pollution from a former railroad yard that he said caused him to lose an $875,000 sale nearly two years ago. He and Mayor James C. Galie believe a recent settlement offer by Amendola was victim to the political cross-fire between Galie and the City Council and Corporation Counsel Robert P. Merino, whom Galie is trying to remove.

Amendola requested that his assessment be reduced from $2.4 million to $750,000 this year and $1 million in 1999 and 2000. Amendola immediately would have paid $399,759.94 in all city, county and school taxes dating back to 1995. He would have made cosmetic and other improvements in the building to attract new tenants and made space on the first two floors available to the Festival of Lights as a permanent home, initially rent-free and then at a below market-rate rent.

"He's a local businessman. I think we should try to work with him. He's paying all back taxes. He would upgrade the building for new tenants, put some investment into the building, and give the Festival of Lights a home," Galie said.

Merino and City Assessor Dominic L. Penale Jr. nixed the settlement. Penale said he was willing to listen to Amendola's arguments regarding the 1997 and 1998 assessments. But, he wouldn't agree to Amendola's request to pay only partial taxes for 1995 and 1996 because a judge already has upheld Penale's $2.4 million assessment for those years. Amendola is appealing that ruling. Amendola offered to pay $425,000 of the $922,000 owed in city, county and school taxes, Penale said.

Some individual Council members share Galie's feelings about helping local businessmen, but as a body, the Council in recent years has taken a cautious stand against lowering assessments and entering special tax agreements because the city has such a shrinking tax base.

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