Still no development at former Rainbow Centre Mall

Governor had high hopes in 2014 to transform former mall into resort

Mike Baggerman
June 24, 2019 - 3:00 am

Uniland rendering of Wonder Falls Resort in Niagara Falls. May 11, 2017 (Uniland Photo)


NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WBEN) - Millions of tourists each year visit Niagara Falls to take in the iconic waterfalls.

But a constant criticism of the American side of Niagara Falls is that it lacks the play amenities compared to its neighbors in Canada. Shortly after Nik Wallenda's famous high wire stunt in Niagara Falls that drew worldwide attention to the region, New York proposed adding the luxurious Wonder Falls Resort project to maintain year-round interest on the American side of the falls.

But since its initial announcement in 2013, there's been little development and no actual construction that has taken place.

The $150 million resort was supposed to transform the two-block area that was a former shopping mall into an indoor waterpark with 300 guest rooms, a 14-floor hotel tower, rooftop dining, spa, plus retail and restaurants. It was also originally expected to include Nik Wallenda's "Daredevil Adventure". The project, located near Old Falls Street between Niagara Falls State Park and the Seneca Niagara Casino, was proposed with hopes that visitors to the American side of Niagara Falls would extend their stay in the city rather than stay on the Canadian side.

Officials estimates the resort would support 1,500 jobs during construction and 300 jobs after it was completed.

The Wonder Falls project was first introduced in 2013 as part of the Buffalo Billion. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in August of 2014 that Uniland Development Company was named as the preferred developer to create the resort on the former Rainbow Centre Mall.

Assemblyman Angelo Morinello said that when the federal government enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, it created snags in Uniland's ability to get funding.

"We do not have the demographics and we do not have the critical mass to advertise what it would take for support a project of about $150 million," Morinello said. "It was too big, too fast. What I really believe what has happened through the years is that they're picking preferred developers who do not have the resources to start the projects. They come up with an idea, become preferred developers, then scramble for money. Then they want more from the state."

A message to Uniland Development was not returned, though they did tell WIVB in April that they expected assistance from the state towards capital costs and that the tax reform bill had a financial impact on the project.

"I think that that building could be developed," Morinello said. "I don't know if Wonder Falls is it. The building itself is wonderful. It is completely gutted. One of the thoughts I had was something that could bring people on a year-round basis almost daily that would then allow them to go into the city for other may be the right size for a small semi-professional hockey team. They're all over Canada. They draw crowds. The crowds come and they have to go eat."

New York State is still in negotiations with Uniland on a development agreement.

"A project of this size, scale and complexity requires extensive due diligence to ensure that it will be a success for all parties," the state's project status read. "Uniland has been working steadfastly on project requirements, such as site analysis, geo-technical investigation, structural and seismic study, environmental report, design refinement and market analysis.  Uniland is currently refining the design and its associated costs, interviewing potential operation partners, and preparing for investor and lender meetings."

John Percy, the President and CEO of Destination Niagara USA, said any state projects in Niagara Falls are a must because it could be a "viable products" that can inject energy into downtown Niagara Falls.

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