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IDEAS FOR CITY'S DEVELOPMENT ZONE RUN THE GAMUT

Museums, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and an internationally themed strip of boutiques are among the ideas offered in the first round of proposals for development in downtown Niagara Falls, state officials say.

This summer, USA Niagara Development Corp. asked for suggestions on projects that could be built in the 192-acre state development zone in downtown Niagara Falls.

In response, 20 to 25 development groups and other interested parties submitted proposals, said Michael Wilton, president of the development office.

Proposals involved sites in all three sectors of the development zone, which is divided into a honeymoon district, urban core and bed-and-breakfast district.

"We're extremely pleased by the response," Wilton said. "There's a good number of people responding from outside the area that would represent new players in town."

The proposals, called "expressions of interest," are the first list of possibilities the development corporation will choose from in assembling its official development plan, Wilton said. "It's a chance for USA Niagara Development to pick the brains of the development community."

Niagara Falls Redevelopment, which signed a development contract with the city in 1997, and Cordish Co., which owns the closed Rainbow Centre Factory Outlets, both offered general expressions of interest, Wilton said. He declined to describe other proposers or project ideas in detail, saying his office needed time to analyze them.

The next priority for the office will be assembling its development team, including a consultant to guide the creation of its detailed plan, Wilton said. The consultant will help his office set up a system to evaluate the various proposals it expects to sift through, Wilton said.

USA Niagara expects to issue its official request for proposals in November, Wilton said, with approval of the finalized plan targeted for February 2002.

It's still unclear whether a casino will be part of the Niagara Falls development plan. There have been no signals that a required Assembly vote on the casino proposal is on the horizon.

"I think (Assembly Speaker) Sheldon Silver should allow a casino vote to happen," Wilton said, citing its potential for accelerating development.

But the state's development efforts will continue even without a casino, Wilton said.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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