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State buys Niagara Falls waterfront property it wants developed

A one-acre lot across the Niagara River from Goat Island has become the first acquisition under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan to buy vacant properties in Niagara Falls and open them to redevelopment.

USA Niagara Development Corp. intends to seek proposals from developers and does not plan to hold onto the lot at 305 Buffalo Ave. for more than two years.

USA Niagara, the local arm of Empire State Development, obtained money from the state's Buffalo Billion II fund to pay $850,000 for the lot. The fund includes $24 million to buy Niagara Falls properties.

"The purchase of 305 Buffalo Ave. is our first acquisition and is a unique parcel of land with its adjacency to Niagara Falls State Park and the upper Niagara River," according to a USA Niagara statement. "It is our goal to catalyze a development that is consistent with the current zoning regulations as well as physical and visual public access to the overlook and down to the river in perpetuity."

USA Niagara's board approved the deal Tuesday.

It's possible some form of lodging could be built on the property.

Cuomo in January proposed building a lodge on Goat Island, but the state pulled the idea after an outcry from local preservationists and elected local leaders.

A request for proposals issued June 30 asked developers to consider building a lodge in one of the state parks on the mainland, such as Whirlpool or DeVeaux Woods State Parks beside the Niagara River Gorge.

The state received responses from prospective developers in September but so far has not chosen a developer nor commented on the proposals. Besides a lodge, developers were asked to provide outdoor recreational opportunities in the state parks.

Maid of the Mist Corp. sold the property at 305 Buffalo Ave., next to a parking lot for the Parkway Condominiums. The company bought the land in 2008 with the notion of constructing a new Maid of the Mist office building there.

The company changed its mind and placed the lot up for sale this summer, with a $1 million asking price.

The lot is part of the city's heritage zone. Although it's not an official historic preservation district, the zoning is meant "to establish an appropriate, low-density transition in scale between state parkland and adjacent downtown commercial districts," the city's ordinance says.

The design and scale of any project would have to fit into the neighborhood, with "relatively low building heights, sloped roofs (and) residential materials."

A memorandum from USA Niagara President Christopher J. Schoepflin said the eventual plan will comply with that vision.

Maid of the Mist paid $634,000 for the Buffalo Avenue lot nine years ago, and spent $36,000 tearing down the former buildings there. The city assessed the vacant lot at $16,600.

USA Niagara obtained two appraisals for the lot. One valued it at $820,000 and the other at $850,000.

The site has 231 feet of street frontage, is 249 feet deep and slopes toward the Riverway along the river, with the eastern end of Goat Island directly across the water.

Schoepflin's memo said the agency will consider a pedestrian-only access walkway toward the river along the western edge of the parcel.

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