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Falls office of former 'Dr. Feel Good' is centerpiece of redevelopment plan

The vacant three-story brick building at 550 Main St. is Niagara Falls has a colorful history.

For many years, Dr. Pravin V. Mehta prescribed painkillers there, sometimes without examining patients, in what authorities said was a major contribution to the local opioid epidemic.

Now, with Mehta in prison and the city in charge of the building, the structure is proposed as the centerpiece of a $9 million redevelopment plan that would expand the former medical office into a retail and apartment complex.

Anthony Vilardo, the city's business development director, said that Penn Terra Group of St. Catharines, Ont., was the highest-scoring of the three proposals received for a makeover of what the city prefers to call the Cannon Block at Main and Third streets.

Penn Terra, which has a southern Ontario development track record, would be trying its first U.S. project if the Niagara Falls City Council names the company its preferred developer for the block.

The Council hasn't done that yet, but Monday, after a public hearing, it is expected to approve a request for a $2 million state grant that would be applied to the $9 million project.

"We're impressed by the work this group has done. It's well-capitalized," Vilardo said.

If the state grant is approved, Penn Terra's investment in the property would serve as the required matching money. No city funds would be used, Vilardo said.

Penn Terra didn't respond to calls seeking comment, but Vilardo said their plan is to turn property that used to be Mehta's into a 40,000-square-foot mixed-use development.

The plan is to construct a four-story addition to the three-story, 7,100-square-foot building, which is old enough to be eligible for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. The retail space would be located on the ground floor; apartments would be constructed on the other three floors.

"This will not be subsidized housing," Vilardo said.

Dec. 15 is the deadline for the city to apply for the Restore New York grant it seeks to assist with the project.

Vilardo said Mehta and his wife bought four houses and a lot near the former medical office. As part of his plea bargain, the U.S. Attorney's Office forced Mehta to surrender those properties to the city.

One of the houses already has been demolished, and under Penn Terra's plan, the others would be. Another vacant lot also is part of the redevelopment area.

The block of six contiguous parcels is named for E.H. Cannon, who once operated a hardware and stove store on the first floor of 550 Main St., which was erected in the late 19th century.

Penn Terra's work in St. Catharines includes two apartment houses for college students, totaling 120 units; a four-story, 28-unit condominium; and an eight-story, 128-unit affordable housing project, now under construction.

Mehta, called "Dr. Feel Good" on the streets of Niagara Falls, was arrested in 2011. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to a conspiracy charge regarding distribution of painkillers, and was sentenced in January 2016 to two years in prison. Now 79, Mehta is scheduled for release Dec. 17 from a re-entry facility in Atlanta, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons website.

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