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Falls Redevelopment mulls building entertainment venue

NIAGARA FALLS – Niagara Falls Redevelopment is considering plans to build a 6,000- to 8,000-seat entertainment venue in the city.

The company, which controls roughly 85 acres of land in the downtown area, is in the early stages of formulating the project and is talking with various groups and community officials about the concept.

“We are in the preliminary planning stages and sharing ideas with various stakeholders, who have been very supportive,” company executive Roger Trevino said Monday. “However, it is way too early in the process to discuss in any detail.” Trevino declined to comment further.

The new venue is envisioned as a year-round facility that could host concerts, sporting events and other shows. Convention space is also being discussed. There’s also the possibility it could house an attraction featuring famed high-wire walker Nik Wallenda, who has been eager for a permanent gig in the Falls since his much celebrated high-wire walk across the cataracts the summer of 2012.

The size of the potential arena hasn’t been finalized and would likely depend on what the market could support. In terms of venues of comparable size, the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena in Amherst has a 6,100-seat capacity for basketball games. On a larger scale, First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo has a capacity of 19,070.

Last week, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. wrote a letter of support for the idea.

“As the official destination marketing organization for Niagara Falls and Niagara County, we are interested in Niagara Falls Redevelopment’s efforts in exploring the potential development of an appropriate 8,000-seat multipurpose facility in Niagara Falls, New York,” the organization stated in its letter dated Aug. 14, which was signed by board Chairman Frank Strangio and President and CEO John H. Percy Jr.

The tourism organization also said it “encourages Niagara Falls Redevelopment to take the next steps of further discussion and research of this project.”

Niagara Falls Redevelopment is led by Howard Milstein, a real estate developer and billionaire banker from Manhattan. The company has faced frequent criticism in the Falls that it has failed to live up to development promises, even though it has amassed more than 400 parcels of land since the late 1990s.

Earlier this year, Milstein suggested the company’s land has the potential to be part of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, should Niagara Falls be chosen as the site for a new home for the NFL franchise.

The parcels under the company’s control sit about a half mile east of Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel. Seneca Gaming Corp., which runs the hotel and casino, in years past has talked about building a new entertainment venue as a part of its complex.

The old Niagara Falls Convention Center, which hosted events like what’s being talked about with this potentially new venue, shuttered its doors to become the Seneca Niagara Casino, which opened Dec. 31, 2002. A new convention space, the $19 million Conference Center Niagara Falls, opened on Old Falls Street in 2004.

Supporters of the idea for a year-round venue point to its potential to boost activity in the Falls outside of the main tourist season.

Talks about the idea for such a facility in the Falls have been going on behind the scenes for a couple years. Ceretto said he’s even mentioned the project to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“You can see how something like this would be a tremendous impact to the City of Niagara Falls,” Ceretto said.

Stressing that the process would still require a great deal of negotiations, Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston said the early talks have also included the possibility that Wallenda could become a regular performer at the entertainment complex. The idea of a permanent, Wallenda-related venue in the Falls has been discussed since the aerialist walked across Niagara Falls in 2012.