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By Mike Hudson

It's the beginning of a great adventure.

For nearly five years now, the Niagara Falls Reporter offices have been comfortably ensconced in the fashionable Niagara Office Building, located on Niagara Street between Third and Fourth streets.

It's been a great spot for us. Looking down from our office windows on the sadly deteriorating Niagara Gazette building, crossing the street for clandestine meetings at the Arterial, the Press Box or Players, and being just a block away from the Third Street strip made our time there fun.

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But all good things must come to an end, and now we're moving. Mickey Brown's Seneca Niagara Gaming Corp. bought the building from our landlord, Frank Amendola. Brown said he'd honor all leases, and we could've signed one when we first heard of the impending sale. But Brown's aberrant record as chairman of the board of directors at the posh Parkway Condominiums convinced us we'd do well to seek new digs elsewhere.

We're hearing that Amendola sold the place for around $4 million. The Niagara Aerospace Museum, HSBC bank, the state police and possibly a few others will keep their space, but everyone else is out once their leases expire.

"We need the space," Brown told me over a cocktail recently.

But, as fortune would have it, Amendola and partner Gary Coscia recently acquired a new place: the old Carborundum Executive Office Building on Buffalo Avenue, which Frank has renamed the Niagara Business Center. It boasts three stories, 24 suites and 85,000 square feet of space. Marble floors, mahogany woodwork, French doors, kitchens, fireplaces -- the whole nine yards.

The main part of the red-brick building was put up in 1925, with wings added to the east and west in 1936. Overseeing the construction was former Carborundum president Frank Tone, father of the famous movie actor, Franchot Tone.

While the building has been largely unoccupied for the past two decades, the folks at Carborundum took meticulous care of it prior its sale to Amendola and Coscia in December of 2002. Since then, more than $100,000 has been spent on its restoration.

Among the innovations introduced is high-speed wireless Internet service, provided by the Niagara Falls firm Wisprnet. This will allow tenants of the building to stay online 24 hours a day without having to dedicate a phone line for access.

But Amendola said he purchased the property without thinking about its potential for high-tech and other businesses.

"We've got a ton of parking out back, and I originally bought the property so that it could serve as a way station for the steel and concrete that was coming in from out of town for the casino parking ramp," Amendola said. "But the more time I spent here, the more I fell in love with the building itself."

In addition to the Reporter, the building's charter tenants will include the Niagara USA Chamber, Amendola Property Management, Niagara Falls Redevelopment and a small Canadian publishing house, all of which were displaced by the purchase of the Niagara Office Building.

Reporter Publisher Bruce Battaglia said the move typifies the pioneering nature of the newspaper.

"Five years ago, people said we were crazy for trying to start a free newspaper in Niagara Falls," he said. "We went ahead and did it anyway, and it's gone pretty well. Our new neighborhood has a tremendous potential for growth, and we're glad to be a part of it."

Battaglia toured some of the available office space downtown and didn't like what he saw, he said.

"You're basically limited to the Occidental Building and the Williams Building," he said. "And they both have parking and maintenance issues."

Likewise, Niagara Falls Redevelopment Vice President Roger Trevino said the near East Side location suits him fine.

"The building's just beautiful, filled with that old-world charm you just don't see anymore," he said. "And Frank's a great landlord."

As for Amendola, he said he won't miss the often contentious battles he fought with the city over issues like parking and tax assessments at the Niagara Office Building. The litigation became so costly that once, a few years ago, he offered to sell the building to the city for $1.

"I'm happy to turn the building over to the Senecas," he said. "And I'm excited to be launching the Niagara Business Center."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 31 2004