Group wants 'World Weather Center' in Niagara Falls

Contributed imageA rendering of the planned Weather Center in Niagara Falls.

NIAGARA FALLS – A group pushing for a "World Weather Center" has decided it wants it to be located in Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls City Council members may not be too hot on the idea. They've been asked to consider contributing $100,000 to the project with a well-known local meteorologist at its helm.

When the group first appeared before the city council earlier this year, it was uncertain of the ultimate location of its weather center. On Monday, Don Paul, a meteorologist at WKBW Channel 7 news, and his colleagues said they want to see the World Weather Center in the city of Niagara Falls. 

The group – which also includes Marina Homes Corp.'s President Sergio Fornasiero and Dave Norton, an electronic process engineer with Moog Inc.'s space and defense group – said a specific location has also been identified: the One Niagara building, or "flash cube," 360 Rainbow Blvd. 

Their plan is to create a "Disney-quality" attraction revolving around climate with interactive but educational exhibits, something that can be seen across the international border during tourist season and serve as a field trip destination for local schools in the winter months. 

They envision the glass on the outside of the building outfitted with projections showing bolts of lighting, or a snowfall, crossing the panes. Inside could be an IMAX-style theater and exhibitions that take a visitor on a journey through the world climates. 

"The center will also serve as a mecca for meteorologic research," Fornasiero told lawmakers last week. 

Paul said there are museum wings, and organizations, that focus on certain facets of weather, but nothing in North American exists solely devoted to its history and affects.

The first phase of the project focused on selecting a site and was funded with $50,000 the group raised privately. In its "embryonic" phase, Paul said the city of Buffalo was considered as a location, but the Falls "tourism draw" tipped the scales in favor of the Cataract City.

The second phase, for which the group is requesting the $100,000, will involve blueprinting the architecture of the building and determining what the operational costs of the venture would be, including what visitors would be charged for the experience. 

Fornasiero said the One Niagara building is "disrepair" and its owners are interested in its redevelopment with the Weather Center group with a "high-tech rebuilding" of the structure.

Two city lawmakers said after Monday's presentation they'd need to see other private and public contributors before moving forward.

The weather group said they are talking to other investors, but were not prepared to release organization names. They did disclose preliminary discussions have taken place with software giant IBM.

"They got excited, but not to the point of handing us cash," Paul said, which is exploring private-sector work similar to that of the government subsidized National Weather Service. 

City Council Chairman Charles Walker said the undisclosed funders "would be important to the financing of the project," and is information he felt was necessary to making a decision. Despite the size of the group's request, Walker said "under the right circumstances, I don’t think it would be inappropriate."

"It all boils down to who’s at the table that can really make the project sustainable and doable," Walker said. "Right now, it looks great, but there’s still a whole lot of questions yet be answered."

Councilman Ken Tompkins also said other funders coming to the table would be an essential part of his decision. He called the project a "wonderful concept," but said the group's Monday proposition had to be "much tighter" for him to endorse the allocation. 

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