The Rainbow Centre Factory Outlet and its attached city-run parking ramp were built to complement one another.
But that relationship has cost $600,000 or more in taxpayer money each year to subsidize operations at the deteriorating ramp and a mostly closed mall.
Now, the mall's developer and city leaders are saying they agree they would like to see the mall become an entertainment complex.
Mayor Vince Anello, City Administrator Daniel S. Bristol and acting Corporation Counsel Damon DeCastro traveled to Baltimore in October to discuss the complex with David Cordish of Cordish Co., whose lease with the city on the mall extends until 2056.
The Baltimore developer told city leaders he is working on a plan to rejuvenate the mall, according to Taylor Gray, development director of Cordish Co.
The mall at Rainbow Boulevard and Niagara Street, a block from the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park, has had few tenants in the last six years, and its only commercial tenant right now is an Indian restaurant on the ground floor. Cordish continues to pay the city $107,488 a year to lease the building, but some leaders say he hasn't lived up to his end of the deal by attracting enough tenants.
Anello, who toured Cordish's developments in Baltimore and brought him a copy of the city's strategic master plan, briefly told the City Council about the trip during a public meeting, saying talks were "positive and upbeat," but little else. The mayor says he is waiting for something in writing from Cordish.
Gray said the company is actively talking to well-known entertainment and restaurant brands about the Falls location and could release details in the middle of next year.
"No one wants it to sit as it currently is," Gray said. "It's a common [erroneous belief] that we turned our backs on the city. The truth of the matter is it takes strong national brands to work in this climate."
Gray said Cordish is considering various design models for the building's redevelopment.
The city failed this summer to garner any interest in a public request for proposals to develop the roof of the mall ramp, a 124,000-square-foot space the city controls, as an entertainment venue.
After that, Anello told the Council that the city would have decide whether to pour millions of dollars into much-needed repairs or take the ramp down.
The city still owes about $1.4 million on bonds used to build the 1,668-space ramp, and City Engineer Robert Curtis said repairs are vital to continue operating. He said a consultant estimated that completely restoring the ramp, afflicted with improperly sealed joints as well as problems with its columns and drainage, would cost $4.5 million.
If the city does nothing in the next few years, Curtis said, it will deteriorate further and cost just as much to disassemble from the mall. He said it can't be demolished, a less costly way to take down a building, unless the city were to take over the mall portion and raze the whole complex.
The mayor says he's "encouraged" by his discussions with Cordish, though, and is holding off on a decision.
"There's certainly a lot of market-related reasons why things didn't go well for Rainbow Mall," Anello said. "But that's in the past. My goal was to say, 'OK, this piece of property is here. How do we make it work?' "