A dispute among partners in the ownership of the highly visible former Occidental Chemical office building in downtown Niagara Falls has led to a court order aimed at requiring the majority owner and operator to pay more than $476,000 in back taxes or face the prospect of having a receiver appointed to manage the business.
The dispute centers on the nine-story, glass-enclosed building now called One Niagara, directly across Prospect Street from Niagara Falls State Park and the Rainbow Bridge.
Spokesmen for Frank Parlato Jr., a principal in the ownership group, said the order was "aggressive, harassing litigation to extort a new deal with Parlato." Attorney Paul Grenga said that he expected the motion for appointment of a receiver to be denied and that "there is no imminent risk that the property will be lost through nonpayment of taxes."
Grenga explained that Parlato and his Whitestar Development Corp. have been "fighting the tax assessment for years" and that they do not expect to pay taxes until the matter is settled.
Tony Farina, president of One Niagara, said, "We will oppose the motion in court. We are challenging the assessment and will not pay the taxes until the outcome of that challenge."
The nonvoting minority partner in ownership of the building, Incredible Investments Ltd., alleged in court papers that Parlato profited improperly from his investment in One Niagara and that the property soon would be foreclosed if the taxes were not paid, thus creating a substantial loss for Incredible Investments.
State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III signed an order Monday directing One Niagara, Parlato and his Whitestar Development Corp. to appear in court next Wednesday in Niagara Falls to show cause why they should not be ordered to promptly pay back taxes to the city, the Niagara Falls School District and Niagara County.
Incredible Investments also asked that a receiver be appointed to manage the affairs of One Niagara if the taxes are not paid. The plaintiffs contend that the tax bill has grown to more than $1.5 million, with about $476,000 of that owed for previous years.
Incredible Investments is represented by attorney B. Kevin Burke Jr. of the Buffalo law firm of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel.
The building housed offices of Occidental Chemical Co. when that company was headquartered in Niagara Falls, and it perhaps was most widely known for "OxyLights," its annual holiday display of moving lights inside its glass walls, accompanied by music.
After Occidental reduced its operations here and vacated the building, a developer proposed the construction of an underground aquarium there. That project stalled after an excavation was done to accommodate the proposed aquarium, but nothing was built.
The building stood vacant for some time until Parlato and his partners began developing it as a tourism center and parking lot. There now are tourist services on the first floor and an observation deck on the ninth.
The parking lot competes with a nearby lot operated by Niagara Falls State Park and a parking ramp operated by the City of Niagara Falls adjacent to the now-vacant Rainbow Centre shopping mall. Some critics have contended that One Niagara promotes its parking lot too aggressively, attracting traffic away from the other sites.