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A pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow (Mall)?

kc kratt

Few residents of Niagara Falls, N.Y. were surprised last year when David Cordish of the renowned Cordish Companies of Baltimore announced that efforts to rejuvenate the Rainbow Mall in the core tourist area of the city were being abandoned once and for all. For a myriad of reasons Cordish was unable to duplicate the magic he had employed at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and elsewhere to create vibrant, mixed-use developments that helped define communities as places to live, work, or visit. Who would have thought that one of the great tourist draws in the world would be unable to sustain a fairly modest retail and entertainment complex a mere city block from the actual falls? Perhaps some garish simulacrum harking back to the city’s salad days of the early-to-mid twentieth century would have worked, but clearly Cordish had lost the will, the drive, and possibly even the heart to give anything else a try.

Fortunately, before a vacuum could form, in stepped Niagara County Community College with the idea to relocate its Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and Hospitality and Tourism Center into approximately one-third (70,000 square feet) of the mall’s space. Included in the programs are classes in Casino Management, Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, Tourism and Event Planning, Restaurant Management, and Winery Operations. All are two-year associate degree programs with an optional one-year certificate-bearing curriculum for students who prefer just the basics.

NCCC president James Klyczek is thrilled with the plans and excited about the scheduled opening in 2012. He looks forward to providing students a unique environment with state of the art labs, kitchens, classrooms, and other learning centers, along with hands-on experience in the restaurant, wine boutique, and other retail operations. Klyczek notes, “Academic, continuing education, tourism, and small business development components of the project are integrated to reflect the College’s commitment to our community, our emphasis on excellence, and our role in economic development.” He estimates that the hospitality and tourism programs will bring 800 to 1,000 students and instructors to a “completely renovated signature development in downtown Niagara Falls” on a daily basis. President Klyczek and others expect no small number of spinoffs from both the culinary and hospitality sides of the plan in the form of restaurants, targeted retail, and other hospitality-related businesses. He enthusiastically suggests that future development will be limited “only by the imagination of the developers who join us now and those who follow later.”

As for specifics, according to Mark Mistriner, professor and coordinator of Culinary Arts/Hospitality, “The plan will feature six teaching kitchens, four lecture classes, a theater classroom with full cooking demonstration capabilities, a community education teaching kitchen where we will offer classes at night during the week and on weekends for the community, and a wine tasting/mixology class.”

Before the school moves in, the first phase of the project, expected to open in May 2012, will be the retail operations of the Culinary Institute. The Hospitality and Tourism Center will feature a restaurant, delicatessen, pastry shop, and wine boutique, all staffed and managed by the students and instructors of NCCC. The restaurant, facing Old Falls Street, will cover about 3,000 square feet of the institute and operate at market rate, meaning the management will offer prices comparable to private-sector restaurants. The menu is expected to feature as many local products as possible and operate seasonally; according to Mistriner, “you won’t find any blueberries on the menu in January.” At street level on the Old Falls Street side of the building, in addition to the restaurant, plans call for a branch of the college’s bookstore, a Niagara Wine Trail shop, and an office for NCCC’s Small Business Development Center.

While Niagara Falls has no lack of critics of its recent development history, there is a growing sense that change is in the air. City government is encouraging private-sector development and signs of a turnaround are starting to appear. To borrow a tagline from President Klyczek, most agree with him that having the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and Hospitality and Tourism Center downtown, like NCCC itself, is a “Smart Place to Start!”

For more information, contact Mark Mistriner, 614-6456.

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