Take a walk down Old Falls Street, and you'll see plenty of state-built infrastructure designed to spur private development. Largely missing are the type of walk-up storefronts suited for pedestrians and tourists.
City officials, after stalled efforts this summer, hope the demolition of a downtown eyesore will help fix that.
The City Council on Tuesday will vote on an agreement for $25,500 worth of engineering demolition work to be completed by LiRo Engineers of Buffalo. The work would be the first step in the demolition of a vacant glass walkway adjacent to the former TeleTech call center building on Third Street.
The obsolete walkway, which runs west of TGI Friday's along Old Falls Street, has long been viewed by city officials as an obstacle to development along the cobblestone walkway.
"By eliminating that glass hallway, it opens up a lot of opportunities," said Council Chairman Sam Fruscione.
The city had previously allocated $200,000 to develop the walkway, but efforts stalled this summer, and negotiations with developer James "Harry" Williams broke down. The city had hoped to allow vendors to operate within the walkway, but additional work and restroom issues prevented that.
"It turned out to be more difficult and expensive than what we thought, so the price of that was escalating," said Mayor Paul A. Dyster. "That's when we circled back to the developer and said, 'Look, maybe you guys should be doing this on a permanent basis on the other side of that wall.' "
After the city demolishes the walkway next year, developer Williams and his Falls Street Leasing have agreed in principle to develop his former Teletech building, said Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson.
"Obviously, we wouldn't be in a hurry to do that if we didn't think it was going to facilitate development of the space behind," Dyster said. We would want to see the development of storefront retail at the earliest possible opportunity along Old Falls Street, including that spot."
Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti expressed concern about the type of vendors that would potentially want to locate in the TeleTech space.
"I'm concerned that we don't have it be some sort of a flea market or low-end retail that won't be appealing to tourists and locals," Grandinetti said. "I think we are in a position to say to developers that Niagara Falls has a fresh face downtown, and we want to step things up a bit."
The city's control would be limited to the aesthetic guidelines for the storefronts, Dyster said.
"I think there's some ability to make certain that the place itself is of a high quality, and if there's enough interest, I think that allows the landlord to sort through potential tenants to find the ones that he thinks are going to be the most profitable and the most sustainable," the mayor said.
Officials are confident about potential demand for the space.
"We have a list of people, [and] when they're ready, we can give it to [Williams, and] they can pursue. In talking to the principals over there, I understand they have a number of people that have expressed interest to them directly," said city business development director Frances M. Iusi. Demolition would start sometime next year, he said. Williams could not be reached for comment.