For­mer Falls o∞ce of ‘Dr. Feel Good’ is cen­ter­piece of re­de­vel­op­ment

The Buffalo News - - BUSINESS - By Thomas J. Pro­haska NEWS STAFF RE­PORTER

The va­cant three-story brick build­ing at 550 Main St. in Ni­a­gara Falls has a col­or­ful his­tory.

For many years, Dr. Pravin V. Mehta pre­scribed painkillers there, some­times with­out ex­am­in­ing pa­tients, in what au­thor­i­ties said was a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to the lo­cal opi­oid epi­demic.

Now, with Mehta in prison and the city in charge of the build­ing, the struc­ture is pro­posed as the cen­ter­piece of a $9 mil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment plan that would ex­pand the for­mer med­i­cal of­fice into a re­tail and apart­ment com­plex.

An­thony Vi­lardo, the city’s busi­ness devel­op­ment di­rec­tor, said Penn Terra Group of St. Catharines, Ont., was the high­estscor­ing of the three pro­pos­als re­ceived for a makeover of what the city prefers to call the Can­non Block at Main and Third streets.

Penn Terra, which has a South­ern On­tario devel­op­ment track record, would be try­ing its first U.S. project if the Ni­a­gara Falls City Coun­cil names the com­pany its pre­ferred de­vel­oper for the block.

The Coun­cil hasn’t done that yet, but Mon­day, af­ter a pub­lic hear­ing, it is ex­pected to ap­prove a re­quest for a $2 mil­lion state grant that would be ap­plied to the $9 mil­lion project.

“We’re im­pressed by the work this group has done. It’s well-cap­i­tal­ized,” Vi­lardo said.

If the state grant is ap­proved, Penn Terra’s in­vest­ment in the prop­erty would serve as the re­quired match­ing money. No city funds would be used, Vi­lardo said.

Penn Terra didn’t re­spond to calls seek­ing com­ment, but Vi­lardo said their plan is to turn prop­erty that used to be Mehta’s into a 40,000-square-foot mixed-use devel­op­ment.

The plan is to con­struct a four-story ad­di­tion to the three-story, 7,100-square-foot build­ing, which is old enough to be el­i­gi­ble for in­clu­sion on the Na­tional Reg­istry

Build­ing

of His­toric Places. The re­tail space would be lo­cated on the ground floor; apart­ments would be on the other three floors.

“This will not be sub­si­dized hous­ing,” Vi­lardo said.

Dec. 15 is the dead­line for the city to ap­ply for the Re­store New York grant it seeks to as­sist with the project.

Vi­lardo said Mehta and his wife bought four houses and a lot near the for­mer med­i­cal of­fice. As part of his plea bar­gain, the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice forced Mehta to sur­ren­der those prop­er­ties.

One of the houses al­ready has been de­mol­ished, and un­der Penn Terra’s plan, the oth­ers would be. An­other va­cant lot also is part of the re­de­vel­op­ment area.

The block of six con­tigu­ous parcels is named for E.H. Can­non, who once op­er­ated a hard­ware and stove store on the first floor of 550 Main St., which was erected in the late 19th century.

Penn Terra’s work in St. Catharines in­cludes two apart­ment houses for col­lege stu­dents, to­tal­ing 120 units; a four-story, 28-unit con­do­minium; and an eight-story, 128unit af­ford­able hous­ing project, now un­der con­struc­tion.

Mehta, called “Dr. Feel Good” on the streets of Ni­a­gara Falls, was ar­rested in 2011. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to a con­spir­acy charge re­gard­ing dis­tri­bu­tion of painkillers, and was sen­tenced in Jan­uary 2016 to two years in prison. Now 79, Mehta is sched­uled for re­lease Dec. 17 from a re-en­try fa­cil­ity in At­lanta, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons web­site.

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