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Falls Council OKs work on Arts Center Roof replacement at old high school building could cost up to $1 million, city lawmakers say

An estimated $1 million roof replacement at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center is finally a go after lawmakers said Monday they're satisfied with how $500,000 in city casino revenue will be spent on the project.

"They're going to put bids out and come back to us and show us the bids," said Councilman Lewis Rotella at Monday's City Council meeting. "I'm comfortable."

The Council unanimously approved a funding agreement with the nonprofit on Monday that spells out how 2004, 2005 and unreceived 2006 local slot machine monies will be used to match a $500,000 state preservation grant awarded more than four years ago.

The roof on the 1920s building is mostly original, and has deteriorated to a state that officials said has put the historic building's viability in jeopardy.

Rotella asked to delay approval of the agreement at the last Council meeting because he and two other lawmakers said they wanted to see the construction bids first. Rotella and Councilman Sam Fruscione and Council Chairman Robert Anderson Jr. had also blocked a funding proposal last fall because they said they were concerned about giving the nonprofit so much money when the roof at City Hall needs to be replaced.

However, three officials from the arts agency met last week with Anderson and Fruscione at City Hall and said they showed lawmakers that the agreement will allow casino revenue to be spent only on hard construction costs.

"They wanted to prove they're doing due diligence, which I don't blame them for," said Kathie Kudela, the agency's executive director. "They just wanted to make sure the money would be used for hard costs."

The arts and cultural center is situated in the former Niagara Falls High School at Portage Road and Pine Avenue, and is on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places.

Anderson said he thinks $1 million is "an awful lot of money to replace a roof in Niagara Falls," and he's hoping the bids will come in lower so the city can use the remainder to replace the roof at City Hall and the city's Fire Headquarters.

Kudela said the project must be completed by Oct. 31 under the organization's funding agreement with the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

A pre-bid meeting will be held April 25 in the center, where a representative from the state will talk to interested contractors about special requirements for construction on registered historic buildings.

Also Monday, the Council rejected requests by Mayor Vince Anello to reinstate the former events coordinator position -- eliminated two years ago -- and to amend the City Charter to add the mayor to the City Council.

The mayor said he wanted to use the events coordinator to help in his office because the second mayoral secretary was cut two years ago. Rotella and Fruscione said they opposed the request because the position would be funded from the city's share of the local hotel occupancy tax. Rotella said he would consider a proposal for a secretary to be paid through the general fund.

Anderson said he plans to ask voters to amend the City Charter this year to add the mayor to the City Council but wants to include several other amendments on the same referendum.

The mayor said the public hearing process takes more than two months before the issue can be decided in a public referendum. Anello said officials in the county's Board of Elections told him the change would have to be approved by voters in June in order to take effect in 2008 when a new mayoral term will begin.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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