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The Wonder Falls Resort, a Buffalo Billion project, comes to a halt due to 'economic feasibility'

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Posted at 2:59 PM, Dec 06, 2019

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — Uniland Development announced Friday the plans for the $150 million Wonder Falls Project have come to a halt after determining it is no longer "economically feasible due to circumstances beyond its control."

State and city officials announced the project with great fanfare in August 2014 and it was supposed to be a key catalyst for boosting tourism in Niagara Falls.

In July 2019 nearly five years after the project was announced and two years after it was supposed to be finished -- the Wonder Falls development existed only as an artist’s rendering on the Buffalo Billion website.

Coming off the excitement of the recently completed Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, officials saw Wonder Falls as an ambitious development that would occupy the remaining 200,000 square feet of vacant space inside the former Rainbow Centre Mall.

Officials said the project would have meant 8 million tourists who came to the Falls each year would encounter a “world-class” hotel tower with rooftop dining. Plans even incorporated an indoor waterpark and the Daredevil Adventure Center, a nod to the wildly popular tightrope walk by Nik Wallenda in 2012.

State officials originally said they would break ground in 2015 and the gleaming tower would be complete by 2017.

In July 2019, Empire State Development - who was helping to finance the project - and Uniland Development - the chosen developer - said money problems brought to a halt what little progress had been made.

In a release Friday, Uniland cited new tax laws had a significant impact on the project.

"The State pledged Buffalo Billion taxpayer-based funding to assist with the capital costs of Wonder Falls. However, a change last year in a tax law subjects the State’s assistance to federal income tax significantly reduced the funds available to support the project. Both Uniland and ESD attempted to mitigate the significant negative effect to the project’s bottom line to no avail."

Uniland Vice President Michael Montante expressed disappointment Friday.

“The project team and I are disappointed that the years we spent developing and championing this project will not result in Wonder Falls coming to life,” said Montante. “We have consistently maintained that we are responsible stewards of public funds. In this case, the economics do not make sense and the prudent and proper decision was to end the process. As forces such as political policies and economic conditions shifted, so did the viability of the concept.”

Empire State Development will now pivot its plans to focus on civic improvements to the Rainbow Centre which it says will "establish greater public access and walkability, create commercial opportunity and also improve parking to support new and existing businesses at and near the site."

“Reimagining the former Rainbow Centre mall through adaptive reuse will reconnect the downtown street grid, creating a more pedestrian-friendly area that will attract shoppers and visitors and also support local businesses,” said Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler.