The unused and unsightly glass-enclosed pedestrian walkway along Old Falls Street may be rehabilitated and turned into a row of small stores or shopping stalls in time for the July Fourth holiday weekend, according to the city's lead person for the rehabilitation project.
Business Development Director Fran Iusi said bids for the reconstruction probably would be sought within the next couple of weeks.
"The work probably will take about 30 days, and we would like to be open by the Fourth of July," she said.
When the city government allocated $200,000 for the project last fall, it was thought that the stores and vending sites along the walkway would be operating by this week. But that timetable has been pushed back "because the owners of some of the adjoining properties have expressed some concerns, and we are working on that," Iusi said.
She did not discuss the nature of the "concerns" but noted that a rehabilitated walkway could restrict access to some nearby buildings if the building owners were to decide someday that they wanted to open stores or sales stalls of their own with access from Old Falls Street.
The walkway is entirely on the city-owned sidewalk, but it abuts the outside wall of structures including the vacant Falls Street Station building, which was last used as a telephone call center.
"Our intent is to bring more activity to Old Falls Street," Iusi said. "We hope to get more people to come out of the state park at the end of the street and to come up our street. Millions of dollars could be spent there, and we need people on that street."
Rehabilitation and reuse of the neglected walkway "could stimulate other business development nearby," she said. "Everybody benefits when there are more people there."
The walkway extends about 300 feet along the north side of Old Falls Street between Third Street and old First Street, now sometimes called North Rainbow Boulevard.
"We think it could be divided into eight or 10 small stores or sales stalls," Iusi said.
The spaces could range from about 100 square feet each to about 300 square feet, she said.
"Global Spectrum has the exclusive right for business development in the area, and it will select the tenants and manage the walkway for the city," Iusi said. Global Spectrum manages Conference Center Niagara in the old Falls Street Faire building, across the street from the walkway.
Rental rates for spaces along the walkway have yet to be set, Iusi said, and no prospective tenants have signed up for space so far. Rental rates may depend on the amount of space needed, the actual cost of the rehabilitation project, and whether the business is seasonal or year-round.
Iusi said a preliminary engineering estimate places the construction cost at about $180,000. She said additional engineering fees and other costs could boost the total investment to nearly $300,000. "We would prefer to have year-round tenants there to attract local residents as well as tourists and to stimulate a greater economy," she said.
The city does not expect to make much profit on the project, "but we would like to at least break even," Iusi said. The reconstruction is not intended to be permanent. "It probably would last for about three to five years, or until another merchant needs the space," she said.
The city fire code prohibits cooking in the stalls, so there will be no restaurants there. "But vendors with pushcart licenses could set up outside and could use a stall for customer seating," she said. "The fire code may not apply to certain pizza ovens, which operate differently than restaurant kitchens, so we would have to look into whether a pizza parlor could be accommodated there."
She suggested that businesses in the stalls could include souvenir shops, sales of packaged foods such as jams, jellies, possibly ice cream and maybe even bottled wine.
The all-weather, climate-controlled enclosed walkway was built during the massive urban renewal effort several decades ago to provide a well-protected, easily navigable way for people to walk along the city street leading to the main entrance of Niagara Falls State Park.
Urban renewal planners viewed it as an innovative way to encourage tourists to visit attractions along Old Falls Street even during the off-season wintry weather. But it didn't live up to expectations.
Attractions in the area languished into disuse, the walkway suffered from lack of maintenance, and pedestrians largely avoided using it.
The walkway has been unused for years, undeveloped and gathering dust.