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Niagara Falls International Railway Station and Transportation Center could be ready to open in May

NIAGARA FALLS – After nearly a decade, the $41 million Niagara Falls International Railway Station and Transportation Center could be ready to open at the end of May.

Thomas J. DeSantis, the city’s senior planner, discussed the project with the City Council on Monday. The two largest tenants of the train station on Main Street near the Whirlpool Bridge will be Amtrak and the Underground Railroad Heritage Area, which will house a museum in the former Customs House attached to the site.

A bid of $22.7 million was awarded to Scrufari Construction of Niagara Falls in 2014 for the final phase of the project, but the Council approved $1.2 million in change orders Monday for “unanticipated and necessary work that was beyond the scope of the bid,” including signage and interior modifications. However, the change orders remain within the project’s contingency budget already approved by the Council and includes matching federal and state funds, DeSantis said.

“We are less than six months away,” DeSantis said of the planned opening.

City Controller Maria C. Brown said they are in the process of setting up a separate stand-alone fund for the train station, rather than mixing operational costs into the general budget.

“Everybody will see clearly the revenues it generates and the expenses associated with it,” Brown said. “We are hoping the train station generates enough revenue to sustain its expenditures.”

Amtrak will be a partner, sharing the cost of operating the train station 50-50, DeSantis said, adding that the city’s economic development staff is looking to lease space there.

DeSantis said officials have suggested that the museum in the Underground Railroad Heritage Area charge a fee.

The museum would not turn people away and will likely be free for schoolchildren, he said, but officials want visitors to see the museum as something of value and be willing to pay something for it.

Another issue discussed by the Council on Monday was Monday’s sentencing of former physician Pravin V. Mehta, also known as “Dr. Feel Good” in U.S. District Court in Buffalo. In a plea deal, he was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally prescribing tens of thousands of prescription pain pills over a five-year period.

Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson said that as part of the plea, Mehta and his wife agreed to transfer their business office at 550 Main St. to the city, as well as three properties in the 500 block of Third Street. He said the next step will be up to the Planning Board, which recommend uses for the properties.