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$10 million makeover planned for Niagara Falls 'flashcube' building

The owners of One Niagara – the flashcube-looking structure in downtown Niagara Falls – plan a $10.2 million makeover of the nine-story, glass-walled building.

The plan calls for replacing all the glass – an estimated $3 million worth of new windows – and adding a family entertainment center and an outdoor market. The project also includes $1 million in new heating and air conditioning systems.

The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency received an application Wednesday for a five-year tax break on the added facilities for the building at 360 Rainbow Blvd., where the Niagara Falls Welcome Center operates.

The inside additions would include two "4-D" simulated-motion theaters that would show a movie depicting a plunge over the falls. A gaming arcade and rope-climbing wall would also be added.

The agency, however, tabled the proposal for a month after managing partner Paul A. Grenga unexpectedly asked for a 15-year tax break instead.

Grenga said he and his partners want the longer incentive period to protect themselves against substantial city tax increases on an increased assessment in coming years.

"I don't think the city's financial picture is going to get any better," Grenga said.

The NCIDA board declined to accept the application until the agency staff estimates the value of the longer incentive package.

"I'm not comfortable on voting ... without seeing what the numbers are," NCIDA Chairman Stephen F. Brady said.

The package would include an exemption from paying sales tax on the building materials and equipment.

The NCIDA staff estimated that a five-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes package, or PILOT, would save the owners $1.55 million.

Grenga said one of the project's goals is to reduce the glass building's utility bills of about $20,000 a month.

When the "flashcube" opened as the Occidental Chemical Center in 1981, the building was considered one of the "greenest" in the nation. But today, the only thing green is the color of the glass.

The building is next to the Rainbow Bridge, and the prevailing winds coat it with spray from the cataracts.

The mist is "a continuous acid rain that causes the (window) seals to fail," Grenga said.

Grenga said he and his partners, Gordon and Bernice Reger of West Seneca, are likely to buy photovoltaic glass that would generate electricity. The new glass is expected to be green in color, he said.

The family entertainment center would include what Grenga said would be the first free-hanging rope course in the United States, 50 feet above the lobby floor.

The gaming arcade would be installed in the second-floor mezzanine, where most of the retail stores are now located. New escalators to the third floor would be installed to reach the theaters showing the Niagara Falls film.

"It'll cost about $400,000 to produce the movie," Grenga said.

The outdoor market would include permanent "pergolas," similar to those in nearby Niagara Falls State Park, offering food, beverages and sightseeing tours.

About 800,000 people passed through the building in 2018, down from nearly 1 million the year before, Grenga said. He blamed construction work at the entrance to the state park, but said once the project is completed, attendance could rise to as much as 1.5 million a year.

The building is now about one-third occupied, Grenga said. After the new attractions, the building would be about half full.

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