Developer Paul Grenga is busy reviving the landmark building at Niagara and Prospect Streets in Downtown Niagara Falls, which once served as an office building for Occidental Chemical. Over the last several years, Grenga has been transforming the building into a tourism welcome center — with a recently opened golf simulator on the third floor — and plans and plans to construct an art gallery above, complete with a renovated observation deck and sweeping 360-degree views from the buildings ninth floor and roof top deck.
Perhaps unlike any other developer, Grenga has specialized in spawning small locally owned businesses in the city and has a keen and hyper-local expertise in the City’s highly seasonal tourist industry. His tenant mentorship program has spawned dozens of restaurants, retail, and entertainment businesses that cater to diverse guests from around the world. His expertise in marketing and his operations team have turned the building into a shining success story in a City where they are difficult to come by (given that tourist traffic will slow to a trickle when autumn hits).
Now Grenga has a plan to redevelop the former Rainbow Centre, where 200,000 square feet of former retail space still sits empty only 300 feet from the park — and has since 2001 when the mall closed. Rather than offering an excessively capital intensive proposal, as other local developers have unfruitfully offered for year to no avail, Grenga wants to take a lighter, quicker, cheeper approach.
“The parking structure would be covered with a fascade that would project the look of Times Square, with all sorts of advertising and loud signage densely affixed to the structure facing all directions,” a source familiar with Grenga’s thinking tells The Chronicle. “The portion of the streetscape that abuts usable square footage will be made very permeable, with retractable glass garage-door style storefronts that open the building right up to the sidewalk. On the second floor, accordion style windows would open up to the outside to give the restaurants a patio feel.”
“When it comes to tenants, the focus will be on diversity, and the operations team would cultivate a wide range of tenant-owned startups,” the source explains. “Anchor tenants will include a film festival-themed cinema, a sports betting themed restaurant, a dance club and live music venue, and a Dave & Busters-style arcade.”
If the City of Niagara Falls — which owns the structure — were to sell the property, Grenga has already pledged to eliminate all parking fees to use the garage.
“His first act as owner of the Rainbow Centre would be to making parking free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In many ways, Paul sees his work as a public service and he wants to do what’s in the best interest of the City — a place that he loves and has worked doggedly to revitalize, against enormous headwinds,” the source adds. “Offering up free parking is the least he could do. It will improve the visitor experience and have the added value of attracting folks into the building and increasing pedestrian traffic on property across the street. It’s a win, win.”
The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival is likely to serve as the anchor tenant of the redevelopment’s first floor, featuring events and screening independent films. A large nightclub with live music — branded ‘The City Ball Room’ — will be operated by Buffalo’s own Joe Marcella and will embrace a full-frontal thematic in a remake of Toronto’s storied Remingtons Men of Steel, a destination male revue that was tragically shuttered in 2018 due to exorbitant rents at its Yonge Street location.
There is speculation that a Niagara Sports Zone might operate at the building as a subsidiary of Western Region Off Track Betting, in the form of a sports bar and betting parlor.
“Grenga has committed to a policy of recruiting as many local tenants as possible and wants to showcase local brands as much as possible… he would be absolutely thrilled to land a DiCamillo’s Bakery if they can hone a specialized location and menu that caters to the family tourist. Of course, he’s always looking for trendy up and coming restauranteurs and performers,” a member of the Grenga development team explains.
In exchange for ownership of the Rainbow Centre, which is currently owned by the City of Niagara Falls, sources say that Grenga might be willing to commit a portion of One Niagara’s large surface parking for a new actively managed and fully programed town square-style public space. The value of that real estate — about half the size of the full city block — is valued at upwards of $30 million.
Planners have long called for an expansion of the State Park into the downtown core, but a public private partnership could lead to better urban design outcomes, they postulate. An actively managed town square across the street from the State Park could be a valuable part of the tourist experience, and a public space could accommodate a wide range of civic uses year-round.