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World Weather Center promoters have 'handshake agreement' to buy One Niagara

The promoters of a proposed World Weather Center have a "handshake agreement" to buy One Niagara, the nine-story "flash cube" building near the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls.

But Paul A. Grenga, the Lewiston attorney who serves as managing partner of One Niagara, said Tuesday night he considers the weather center project "a long shot" and in the meantime, the current owners will move forward with renovation plans of their own.

"The Weather Center guys have a big, long road to hoe," Grenga said. "We've been developing our own plan for a family entertainment center and are going forward with it."

Sergio Fornasiero, president of World Weather Center, said Tuesday the estimated cost of the weather project would be $140 million.

"Any time you try to put together a $140 million development, it's a long shot," Grenga said.

He said the sale of the building is "conditioned upon sufficient community support and funding, of course."

Fornasiero said the Weather Center's six-member volunteer board, which includes veteran Buffalo TV meteorologist and Buffalo News contributor Don Paul, spent $150,000 on a feasibility study by ConsultEcon of Cambridge, Mass.

Fornasiero said their plans envision adding two floors to the top of the glass-walled building and a 300-car underground parking garage in front of it.

"This is a 12-month-a-year attraction," said John R. Simon, the former executive director of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, who is now the Weather Center's executive director.

Both sides said there is no deadline to sign a deal.

"We are pursuing financing – private sector, opportunity zones," Fornasiero said after disclosing the purchase idea from the audience during a panel discussion on Niagara Falls development Tuesday night in the city's train station.

"We understand what they have to do, business end, and we understand what we have to do to get our end completed," Fornasiero said. "They understand that, and we're in lockstep."

"In the event that they're able to raise enough money to actually do their development, everything we're doing is consistent with their overall plan anyway," Grenga said. "They would need the same type of venues that we already have, everything from souvenirs to the food court to the theaters to the arcade."

Much of One Niagara, originally the Occidental Chemical Center, is vacant, but it does house a privately run Niagara Falls visitor center.

Last month, the NCIDA granted One Niagara a 10-year tax break on a $10.2 million renovation plan that includes replacing the exterior glass with new energy-efficient windows.

Inside, owner Gordon Reger of West Seneca plans two new 4-D theaters that would be used to show a movie simulating a plunge over the Falls, as well as an indoor rope climbing wall and a gaming arcade.

In 2017, the Weather Center board zeroed in on One Niagara as the best site for their proposed attraction.

Two years ago, Paul told The Buffalo News that plans included scientific exhibits as well as "virtual tornado chasing, the virtual hurricane hunter flights in what could be a very large flight simulator-type device."

"We have a term sheet that includes our understanding with the owners," Fornasiero said Tuesday. "We intend to buy the whole building and renovate it from the walls in. ... We want total control so we can design and develop (our project)."

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