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Business park is eyed by Falls for 5.5-acre site

NIAGARA FALLS – The city wants to buy a piece of former industrial land near Highland and College avenues and create a business park.

The 5.5-acre parcel at 3625 Highland Ave., once part of a large facility operated by Union Carbide, is owned by Nick P. Dalacu, who operates the Niagara Science Museum on the site.

There are two other buildings on the site that are currently vacant and may need to be torn down.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster, in his most recent proposed capital budget, has called for spending a total of about $1 million over the next five years on the project.

The city is looking to capitalize on the planned SolarCity solar panel factory project in Buffalo and needs more of its own shovel-ready sites in order to do so, said Thomas J. DeSantis, the city’s senior planner and acting director of the Planning and Economic Development Department.

The city has only one shovel-ready parcel that it owns, a 50-acre piece of land it received from the New York Power Authority, DeSantis said.

“With SolarCity coming online shortly, it will create a lot of demand for shovel-ready, industrial development sites,” he said.

City officials said part of their desire to acquire the land is to give the Niagara Science Museum a chance to grow. Should the land go up for sale and be scooped up by another developer, there’s nothing to say the museum would be able to stay. The city believes that the operation has the potential to become an important tourism offering, DeSantis said.

The city’s initiative, he said, comes out of a planning study done of the entire Highland area, about 560 acres between the city’s DeVeaux section and the Town of Niagara. More than half of the land in the Highland community is considered to be brownfields, according to a 2012 report prepared as part of a state Brownfield Cleanup Program.

“The real purpose here is to convert, to regenerate those lands, those acres of former industrial property into property that actually becomes performing,” DeSantis said.

Dalacu has accepted an offer from the city, though a sale contract has yet to be signed, DeSantis said.

Dalacu, who bought the property in 2002, according to city records, said he has been unable to redevelop the site on his own. He said he previously tried to sell his land on eBay.

In total, the existing structures, two of which were built in the 1950s and the other in the 1920s, have about 37,000 square feet of space, according to city property records.

In terms of the existing structures, the city’s keeping its options open, DeSantis said. Depending on the condition of the buildings, they either will be renovated or demolished “if they’re beyond viability,” DeSantis told the Niagara Falls City Development Corp., the arm of the city that offers loans and grants to businesses, earlier this month.

DeSantis called the city’s taking control of the parcel “the straightest path to its regeneration and redevelopment,” noting that “there’s some cost involved.”

The museum, which opened in 2009, features a massive collection of scientific devices. On its website, the museum is described as “a sanctuary for the preservation and appreciation of old science instruments and philosophical apparatus.”

The city wants to keep the museum open and officials said they plan to give museum representatives a three-year lease at the property if the deal goes through.

The city has put together a business plan for the site, DeSantis said, and is looking for partners to redevelop the buildings, as well as for the lease and/or sale of the properties.

Dyster’s proposed capital budget, which still has to be approved by the City Council, calls for $160,000 this year, $100,000 next year, $150,000 in 2017 and $300,000 each in 2018 and 2019 on the project.

Environmentally speaking, the city has some information about contamination at the site, including that some remediation work had previously been done by previous owners.

The site does not appear to be “particularly contaminated,” DeSantis said, adding city officials “don’t expect to be surprised by any major contamination.”

Some preliminary testing has been done at the property and the city’s engineering consultant, Clark Patterson Lee, has hired environmental consultants to do additional tests on the buildings and property.