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Judge to rule on dispute over Falls building

One Niagara
One Niagara, shown here in January, is at the center of an ongoing dispute between its owners. (Charles Lewis / Buffalo News file photo}

NIAGARA FALLS -- A state judge will decide by tomorrow whether to appoint a receiver to ensure that a prominent nine-story glass building just outside Niagara Falls State Park isn't lost to tax foreclosure.

State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III this morning told attorneys involved in a dispute between owners of One Niagara he would rule within 24 hours on a request by one of the partners to compel the other to pay at least a portion of the $1.5 million in property taxes owed on the building. 

"Those monies must be paid," Kevin Burke Jr., attorney for part-owner Incredible Investments Limited, said. "If those monies are not paid, the property will be lost."

Burke asked Boniello to appoint a receiver for 60 days who could count cash coming into the building and ensure the property is not lost to foreclosure for back taxes.

The glass building -- a former Occidental Chemical office property that was once the site of a failed plan to build an underground aquarium in Niagara Falls -- is now a welcome center and observation deck that operates a busy paid parking lot during the summer tourist season.

Burke claims the building brings in $20,000 in revenue a day, a figure co-owner Frank Parlato Jr. disputes. 

"That money is almost exclusively paid in cash," Burke said. "We have no idea where the money is going."

Attorneys for Parlato, who is also the managing partner for the building, say the property is not at risk for foreclosure and that the non-payment of back taxes is part of a "strategy" of dealing with the city over a number of outstanding regulatory issues regarding the building.

"We're on top of it," attorney James C. Roscetti told Boniello. "We're not going to lose this building."

Parlato has for several years paid only enough back taxes on the building to keep it off the city's In Rem foreclosure list in which it acquires properties of people who fail to pay property taxes. 

But now, 2006 and 2007 taxes owed -- or $476,017 -- on One Niagara threaten to land the building on the city foreclosure list for the first time since Parlato has controlled it.

Parlato dismissed that possibility and said the back taxes are one bargaining chip in seeking a "global settlement" with the city over a series of disputes related to the building's certificate of occupancy and its assessed value.

"We don't want to be forced into a public forum to reveal our strategy in dealing with the city," Parlato said. 

Eight floors of the building remain condemned by the city because the property does not have a valid site plan and other city requirements. 

Roscetti said the owners of One Niagara have several options for dealing with the back taxes before the building ends up in city foreclosure. He told Boniello that the request for a receiver is similar to other motions made by attorneys for Incredible Investments Limited before other judges in state and federal court.

"We have a strategy worked out under our managerial discretion," Roscetti said. "The building's not going anywhere, despite what Mr. Burke says. I've been doing this for a lot of years, and not too many buildings get taken in foreclosure unless the people want them to go."

--Denise Jewell Gee

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