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Holiday market plan clears first hurdle

A proposal to create a seasonal holiday market at the entrance of Niagara Falls State Park cleared the first of two approvals needed to move forward on Friday.

The board of directors of USA Niagara Development Corp. voted to allocate $225,000 toward the creation of a 36-day outdoor market and festival on Old Falls Street between the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel and the entrance to the state park.

The disbursement of money from the state agency is contingent on a matching commitment of $225,000 from the city. The proposal is expected to go before the City Council on Monday.

USA Niagara Development President Christopher Schoepflin said the hope is to bring foot traffic and commercial activity to downtown between Thanksgiving and Christmas as the city works to rebuild its tourist district.

The project, proposed by developer Mark Rivers of Boise, Idaho, would be spearheaded by Rivers' company, Brix & Co., with oversight by Global Spectrum, which manages the Conference Center Niagara Falls and Old Falls Street.

Rivers has told city and state officials that his company would raise the additional money -- expected to be about $450,000 -- through sponsorships, vendor fees and festival revenue.

Falls Council Chairman Sam Fruscione, who earlier this week expressed concern about the level of public financing proposed, said Friday he expects to give his support to the project on Monday.

Fruscione said he and Councilman Steven D. Fournier met with city Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson earlier this week to work out benchmarks that the developer must meet before the bulk of the public money is disbursed.

Those benchmarks would be spelled out in an agreement between the city, Brix and Global Spectrum.

The $450,000 public commitment from the state agency and the city -- if approved -- would flow through Global Spectrum, which would oversee and account for project expenses.

Fruscione called the latest proposal a "much better package" for the city.

"It definitely protects our investment and the taxpayers' money," he said.

Schoepflin said USA Niagara Development would provide only $40,000 up front as "seed money" for the project. The rest of the money would not be disbursed until Brix & Co. has lined up at least 50 percent of the sponsorships and vendor leases needed to create the "Niagara Holiday Market."

Fruscione said the city was considering the same arrangement.

The Niagara Holiday Market would build on earlier efforts to create foot traffic in the downtown neighborhood as officials focus on long-term projects to create new development in the area.

The city and state last year completed a $12 million project to reconstruct a three-block cobblestone of Old Falls Street. In an effort to boost foot traffic in the area, USA Niagara has contracted with Global Spectrum to operate vending, events, entertainment and maintenance on the street.

USA Niagara Development spent $642,692 in 2010 for operating and capital costs for Old Falls Street.

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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