Tonawanda News

December 26, 2013

Younger generation looking to restore Falls landmark to former glory

Restoration: Historic Falls club getting attention from younger generation.

By Justin Sondel
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — A Niagara Falls landmark that has sat largely dormant for years is getting some love from a pair of 20-somethings.

Nirel Patel and Matt Green have big plans for the Niagara Club, the building that housed a private social club that had a list of members — Whitney, Scheollkopf — that reads like a history book about the city. They hope to soon find a restaurateur or executive chef to partner with in opening a fine dining restaurant and eventually hope to convert the second and third floors into a boutique hotel with up to 10 rooms.

B.F. Patel, Nirel's father, had plans for an upscale eatery in the building shortly after purchasing it in 2009.

He had an executive chef lined up and things were in motion. But as the opening date approached the chef backed out and the true weight of the economic collapse of 2008 became more apparent. The Patels shelved those plans and rented out the space until a few months ago.

Nirel Patel returned from California at the beginning of last year to help his father with the renovation of the Moore Business Forms building a few blocks east of the Niagara Club on Buffalo Avenue after spending eight years in Los Angeles.

He said the Cataract City is a different place than when he left.

“The winds of change have shifted toward Niagara Falls now,” Patel said.

When Patel — who went to film school and then worked in the industry — came back, he was between jobs and had planned to return to California within a year.

But after seeing positive momentum downtown for the hotel and tourism industries — the state is investing in Niagara Falls State Park and the state and city have committed millions of dollars to incentivize downtown development — Patel decided to stay.

“It’d be foolish not to actually partake in this,” he said.

Patel and Green, 26 and 22 years old respectively, are hoping to bring some attention to their project with a swanky, “roaring 20’s” New Year’s Eve party. The catered event will feature a top-shelf bar, hors d’ouvres, and a jazz band.

Patel said they are hoping to reintroduce the Falls "icon” to the community and to show people who have not visited the city recently that downtown is on an upswing.

“We’re trying to give them a look that Niagara Falls is on its rebirth,” he explained.

The young developers are hoping to open a restaurant in the space as soon as possible but will need to put the hotel plans off, rehabilitating the the more than 35,000-square-foot building in phases, according to Patel.

"It would be unfeasible and unwise to do everything together in one big fell swoop," he said.

Patel and Green first met when Green applied for an overnight gig at the Patel’s Econolodge, looking to earn some extra money while working to finish his degree in architecture and planning at the University at Buffalo.

Patel, curious about a college student looking to work overnights, searched Green’s name using Google’s search engine and found articles about Green’s involvement in city events like the Main Street Symposium, an all-day crash course on development an urban design aimed at addressing blight and vacancy on the city’s once-prominent thoroughfare.

The pair hit it off and began discussing ideas for development in the city and, eventually, the reuse of the Niagara Club.

They formed a company — Element Development Group — and entered into a long-term lease agreement with an option to buy with B.F. Patel.

Green, who has been a licensed realtor since he was 18-years-old, said beyond the attractive historic aspects of the club it is in a location that is on the verge of becoming dense and “walkable” again, with hotels being built or renovated up and down Buffalo Avenue.

“My vision is that Buffalo Avenue’s walkability in the next five years is going to dramatically increase, which makes anything at this corner very, very uniquely positioned to take advantage of that growth,” he said.

Green, who is a life-long Niagara Falls resident, said he decided to go to school for urban planning because he wanted to reverse the blight that he has seen as a growing problem in his hometown over the years.

His partnership with Patel and their effort to restore the Niagara Club is a great place to start.

"My passion was born from the blight here," Green said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257