Niagara Falls, New York: Advisory Services Panel

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Date: September 23−28, 2012

Location: Niagara Falls, New York

Chair: Glenda Hood

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The Assignment

Since the completion of the Culinary Institute, roughly 200,000 square feet in a former mall remains as raw space—fully cleared of its former interior finishes, with all environmental issues remediated or abated. The USA Niagara Development Corporation (USAN) asked this Advisory Services panel to consider a series of questions to determine appropriate uses for the remainder of the former Rainbow Centre Mall. Questions to be addressed by the panel included the following:

  • What is an appropriate mix of particular uses and square footages in the space?
  • Could other possible redevelopment scenarios for the space be economically successful, including pure adaptive use, partial demolition of certain building elements, or additional new development?
  • How can the reuse of the space best complement its closest neighbor—the Culinary Institute—and other adjoining downtown uses?
  • What would be the most successful uses of upper-floor space in the former mall?
  • Would other uses fit into the unique context of the project site near the recreational opportunities of Niagara Falls and the Niagara Gorge?
  • Given the monolithic nature of the structure, what would be the best design techniques to reduce the perceived scale of the building to better fit into the pedestrian-oriented setting that is being promoted through various infrastructure projects downtown?
  • What would be the best design techniques for “turning the building inside-out”? This is particularly an issue where interior floor grades do not align with adjoining sidewalks.
  • How can a new design best deal with the issues of loading, utility services, and storage?
  • What can be done to incorporate sustainable design practices into redevelopment of the former mall space, and are options available for any emerging energy applications?
  • Is the issuance of a developer request for proposals (RFP) an appropriate and viable approach to advancing the redevelopment of the property? What is the profile of a development entity that can deliver the desired results? What would be the best legal structure for the city to allow long-term use of the remaining space (e.g., sale, long-term lease, or other)?
  • What role, if any, should the city of Niagara Falls, USAN, or other public sector entities play in the redevelopment of the remaining former mall space?
  • Is seeking a single redeveloper or staging a phased approach to reuse of the property more appropriate?

Summary of Recommendations

The panel focused on several physical, institutional, and organization improvements that can help USAN and the city move forward with a redevelopment strategy for the Rainbow Centre Mall. These recommendations include the following:

  • Redeveloping and retenanting the mall, using one or a combination of three design scenarios outlined in this report;
  • Understanding and matching the current market potential and psychographic profile of the Niagara Falls area (including Canada) for the repurposed space;
  • Initiating redevelopment and retenanting for key locations around the mall site on Old Falls Street;
  • Improving coordination among state and local agencies;
  • Undertaking short-term actions, such as improved facades, better wayfinding, recladding of the parking ramp, enforcement of signage controls, and establishment of an ambassador program; and
  • Implementing a request for qualifications (RFQ) process.
  • The remainder of this report elaborates on these recommendations.

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