Parlato speaks out
By Nick Mattera
July 30, 2010
NIAGARA FALLS — When Frank Parlato Jr. came to Niagara Falls six years ago, he helped fill a void left over from what is considered to be one of the biggest economic development blunders in the city’s history — AquaFalls.
Now, just days after Parlato sold his interest in One Niagara to a group of local investors, the controversial developer is looking to move forward, but not necessarily away from the issues that dotted his tenure in the Cataract City.
“I am proud of what I have accomplished, sure I have had my share of issues, but nobody is perfect,” he said during an interview with the Niagara Gazette on Friday. “My record is hardly perfect and I made a lot of mistakes, but I did it based on what I believed was right without reckoning the consequences.”
Parlato added, “I think that I took (One Niagara) to a certain level, I filled the hole, I developed a tourism enterprise there that employed a lot of people — local people and it’s all local vendors.”
During his time as owner of One Niagara, Parlato developed a rocky relationship with Niagara Falls city officials, often butting heads with city planners over provisions of a proposed site plan for the building. He also has had a long-standing feud over what he considered an over assessment of the building’s value on the city’s part. Recently, One Niagara’s co-owners, Incredible Investments LTD., filed suit against Parlato, calling into question his management of the downtown tourism center.
In the wake of the recent workplace accident which resulted in the death of a One Niagara employee, Parlato sold the management rights to a group of local investors including attorneys Paul Grenga and Jim Roscetti, former Lewiston mayor Dick Soluri, local realtor Mike Hooper, Cataract Tours operator Frank D'Agostino, local businessman and restaurateur Dan Cipollitti, Niagara Sports Entertainment President Steve Carrella and former city Fire Chief Rich Horn.
Parlato would not divulge any financial details into the sale but did call the offer “generous.” He also said the workplace death had no bearing on his decision to sell.
“I got the right offer at the right time, it was a generous offer and it was a hometown team and that’s the most important thing to me. These are all hometown guys,” Parlato said. “These are Niagara County guys and I believe that we have to raise ourselves by ourselves. I don’t think that we should have our property owned by people from Baltimore or Hong Kong. Our best properties should be owned by local people.”
Parlato said he may aid or share in the transition process of the new management team, but no longer has ties to One Niagara. Parlato who also controlled a company called Tourist Services LLC., said that company was also part of the deal brokered on Tuesday.
Born in Buffalo, Parlato said he has traveled all over the country brokering business deals and working as a journalist. Parlato said he is proud of the doors he has opened at One Niagara.
“I developed the first non-government funded tourism project in Niagara Falls in a long time that actually employs people, actually makes money from the tourists and puts it in the local people’s hands,” Parlato said. “I didn’t get there by natural cooperation, because I think I was an offense to the elites here in Niagara Falls. I was an insult to them, because I came without their permission. I did things that I believed were right.”
Parlato’s relationship with Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has been sour at best. Parlato consistently denied the city's requests that he make various improvements to the One Niagara property, particularly the condition of the parking lot and landscaping improvements around the building’s exterior. Last, the city denied Parlato’s bid to open the ninth floor observation deck at the former Occidental Chemical Corp. complex, forcing Parlato to secure an injunction from Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch allowing him to continue operating the ninth floor while issues with city planners were resolved.
“I’ll fight you to the end,” Parlato said. “I don’t think I started the fight, I never asked for it and so far I never lost one.”
Dyster said he doesn’t harbor any personal vendetta or animosity against Parlato and does not wish him ill going forward.
“We don’t have a Frank Parlato policy here at city hall, we have laws and regulations that apply to everyone equally,” Dyster said. “People may find it hard to believe that despite all of the venomous attacks Mr. Parlato has waged against myself and city hall, I did not take revenge. Mr. Parlato may say differently, but I would put my word against Mr. Parlato’s any day.”
Even with a change of guard at One Niagara, Dyster said city officials will still demand the same compliance from the new management at the facility.
“I am not going to prejudge these individuals,” Dyster said.
While Parlato looks for his next opportunity, he said there are things that need to be done locally to ensure the long-term success of not just One Niagara, but the entire city.
“We need to get rid of these vacant out-of-town investors. When you live in Baltimore or Hong Kong it doesn’t matter if you have a vacant eyesore, it doesn’t matter to you, because you don’t have to look at it everyday,” he said. “Local people have to own the local real estate. We have to kick out the Senecas or make them equal with us. We have to kick Albany to the curb, we have to make tourism our prosperity not Albany’s and we have to seize our hydro-power and make it ours and we will be one of the richest city’s in the world, not the poorest.”
One Niagara developer sells his company
Parlato discusses a 'pattern of corruption'
By Denise Jewell Gee
August 02, 2010
NIAGARA FALLS— Frank Parlato Jr. came onto the city’s development scene in 2004 as an outsider with a plan to take over a faded downtown building that had a 40-foot hole in its front yard.
Six years later, the hole is long gone. The first floor of the square glass building, once offices for Occidental Chemical, is a tourist welcome center filled with trinket vendors and food stands. And Parlato has learned the intricacies of Niagara Falls.
Parlato arrived from Buffalo as a colorful character and only added to the hues before he walked away from One Niagara last week.
He still sees himself as an outsider, undefeated by what he calls an “ingrained pattern of corruption and self-serving motivations that have choked the life out of the community.”
“I didn’t understand how you could have a tourist town with maybe 8 [million] or 10 [million] or 12 million people visiting it annually that’s broke,” Parlato recalled of his first few months in the Falls. “. . . It took me a couple years to understand why Niagara Falls is broke, and whatever made it broke, I had to face.”
Parlato, 55, announced last week he had sold his company, Whitestar Development Corp., to a local management group led by local attorney Paul A. Grenga.
The transaction — the details of which have not been disclosed — gives Grenga and his group control and half ownership of the building at 360 Rainbow Blvd., a nine-story glass structure near the foot of the Rainbow International Bridge.
The deal caps off six years in which Parlato, an unconventional developer, became a lightning rod for controversy as he sought to turn the mostly vacant building on a prominent downtown corner into a tourist center with paid parking.
“I fought every inch of the way,” Parlato said. “And I did it without taking any government money. I’m glad for that. To the extent that I did develop the property, I did it with all local people. I really believe Niagara Falls has to develop itself with its own resources and keep its own resources.”
Parlato leaves a building fraught with problems.
Seven of its nine floors remain vacant. The ninth floor is open only under court order. More than $1.5 million in property taxes is owed on the parcel — roughly $476,000 of which could land the building on a city tax foreclosure list. Legal disputes over the management of the building have persisted in federal and county courts.
Parlato estimates almost $1 million has been spent on legal battles over the building — money he says could have been invested in its development.
He believes the new group can “bring it to a higher level.”
Two members of the team, Grenga and attorney James C. Roscetti, have been closely involved in the building for years. They have represented Parlato in various lawsuits between Parlato and co-owner Incredible Investments Limited, as well as the city.
Parlato said the group also includes two investors from Toronto who “are not going to be active” and have asked to remain unnamed.
Grenga also will work with a management team that includes former Village of Lewiston Mayor Richard Soluri, real estate broker Mike Hooper, Niagara Sport Tours President Gene Carella, former Fire Chief Richard Horn and two vendors in the building, Dan Cipollitti and Frank D’Agostino.
Tony Farina, a former TV reporter brought on as president of One Niagara earlier this year, will remain in that role.
Soluri said he is not an investor in the building but will serve as a part-time consultant on issues such as “government and community relations” and “beautification.”
“If the Falls does better, it benefits everybody in the area,” Soluri said. “If we improve that property, then maybe other property owners along the way will get the message. It’s a long-term proposition.”
Parlato — who said he was given a “fair offer, a good offer” for his stake in One Niagara — said he is still evaluating his options for the future. He said he will no longer have an involvement in One Niagara, but plans to continue to write for a local weekly paper, the Niagara Falls Reporter. He is also considering an opportunity in Nevada.
He said he has no regrets about entering Niagara Falls development.
“At least in my own heart,” Parlato said, “I can walk away knowing that this was true: I was far from perfect. I made a lot of mistakes, but I know I never did anything there that wasn’t right in my mind, that wasn’t in the best interest of the project and the community.”