It’s been more than four years since the doors closed at Rust, a bar on Third Street where, in 2018, Niagara Falls police investigated a bloody altercation they described as a ‘racially motivated’ assault. .
On Monday, state officials joined the current owners in celebrating a milestone they hope will bode well for the building’s future: the renovation of six studios and two one-bedroom apartments upstairs. .
Around this time next year, they expect the first brewery in downtown Niagara Falls to open inside the downstairs bar where Rust previously operated.
The renovation and relaunch of the entire building at 466 Third St. is part of a larger redevelopment strategy being undertaken by state-owned USA Niagara Development Corp. after acquiring 32 parcels in downtown Niagara Falls in a $14 million deal in 2019 with Lewiston businessman Joseph “Smokin Joe” Anderson.
While the former Rust bar building is the first of the Anderson buildings to be transferred by the state to private hands, USA Niagara President Anthony Vilardo said he expects more other agreements follow soon.
“This is the first strategic land acquisition program that has been completed,” Vilardo said.
The bar in Rust closed in May 2018, less than three months after Falls police began investigating an assault at the premises involving a white man who went to the bar with his African-American girlfriend . Police reports of the incident said the male victim suffered a facial fracture after an allegedly unprovoked attack by staff wearing hard-knuckled gloves.
Police later charged two men in the case – Todd Biro, the bar operator’s husband, and Daemon M. Kraft. Both men later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault. Biro agreed to pay $2,500 to cover part of the victim’s medical expenses.
Cataract Development – a company owned and operated by two Niagara Falls firefighters, Jason Zona and Jason Cafarella, and Cafarella’s brother, Matt – was selected to redevelop the property by USA Niagara following the issuance of a request for proposals.
State officials say Cataract Development invested $500,000 to renovate the upstairs apartments.
This isn’t Cataract’s first project on Third Street. The company has completed the renovation of three other properties on the Strip. Zona said she has since sold two of those buildings to Buffalo investors. The company has retained the Tierney building, which has seen its own renaissance of late with the opening earlier this year of The Gold Bar and plans to reopen the former Third Street Tap Room soon as Halligans Third Street Tap Room.
“In the ’90s, this was one of the liveliest bars in Western New York,” Zona said. “Now there’s a motivation all over the city to bring this downtown back to where it’s supposed to be.”
“It’s not about renovating buildings. We are getting good tenants,” he added.
At 466 Third St., Cataract Development already has an existing tenant in Donatello’s pizzeria. The bar and restaurant space next to Donatello’s that once housed Rust was rented by John Meteer, a Youngstown native who worked for five years as a brewer for Brickyard Brewing Co. in Lewiston. Meteer plans to open the first brewery in downtown Niagara Falls – Hammer & Crown Brewing Co. – inside the bar next year. This project, which will include a new kitchen, restrooms and other upgrades, is expected to cost around $250,000.
Meteer said he fell in love with the building the day he first set foot there and was encouraged by the investments made by other Third Street entrepreneurs in recent years.
“There are people moving here again and there is real property investment happening here,” he said.
Cataract Development received no tax relief or other public incentive for the project, but USA Niagara Development sold the building to the company for $1. Records obtained by the Niagara Gazette show the property had a purchase price of $200,000 when the state bought it from Anderson.
Vilardo defended the steep discount on the price of the building, arguing that Third Street and downtown investors are still dealing with a market that does not allow them to command the best price for rents. As a result, he said, without state assistance, buildings in commercial areas can do what many of them have been doing for years: sit empty.
“The goal here is not to make money with these,” Vilardo said. “It’s to get them to the highest and best use possible.”
USA Niagara has already completed a similar transaction for four properties down the street, including the former home of the Icehouse nightclub at 512 Third St. and the former Niagara Mohawk building at 500 Third St.
Vilardo said he expects a previously announced agreement to transfer the properties to the private company, TM Montante, to close soon. The deal was delayed after oil contamination was discovered at the site. The cleanup effort is now in the process of being authorized by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Vilardo said.
Montante announced plans last year to invest $3.8 million to renovate 500 Third St. for use as event space and an office. At the former Icehouse property, Montante intended to open a brasserie and restaurant.