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Rainforest Café is just the latest sign that progress isn’t confined to Buffalo

With all the positive development going on in downtown Buffalo, the uptick in the Niagara portion of Buffalo Niagara has been easy to overlook.

The $10.2 million Wingate by Windham hotel at 333 Rainbow Blvd. had its official opening last month.

But more intriguing is the opening this week of the Rainforest Café, as much a tourist attraction in its own right as it is a restaurant.

The 14,000-square-foot restaurant opened on Old Falls Street in the Sheraton at the Falls. There is much to like about this new entrant downtown, including the expectation of 200 part-time, full-time and seasonal jobs.

The chain’s eateries are a gawker’s delight, with animatronic (and, therefore, thankfully, fake) giant snakes, butterflies, macaws, loud and active elephants and tree-shaking gorillas, along with fish (those are real, we think, in tanks). The space is designed to remind diners of a rain forest, complete with painted ceilings depicting the nighttime sky, sparks of “lightning” and the sounds of crashing thunder and heavy rain with, of course, a rainbow. The food quickly takes second place to the show going on all around.

The DiCienzo family, which runs the Sheraton through NFNY Hotel Management LLC, also operates a Rainforest Café in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The restaurant may give visitors one more reason to spend time in the city before much bigger projects come on line, including the $150 million Wonder Falls project planned for the former Rainbow Centre shopping mall.

About $315 million worth of projects should be opening in the next two years. The list includes Fairfield and DoubleTree hotels and the planned $35.7 million Hyatt Place Hotel, commonly known as the Hamister project. Representatives of the developer recently told the Planning Board that it is seeking bids from potential subcontractors and has applied for city building permits.

The result will be a 128-room, six-story hotel located at Rainbow Boulevard and Old Falls Street, with retail space along Old Falls.

Other projects include the Courtyard by Marriott in the old Moore Business Forms building and the Hotel Niagara restoration.

Along with the new construction, major changes in the Robert Moses Parkway will have a major impact on the city. The improvements will restore access to the Niagara River north and south of the city.

While not as spectacular as the changes taking place in Buffalo, the efforts to remake the tattered Honeymoon Capital are well worth talking about, and sharing.