Niagara Gazette

November 27, 2013

DELUCA: Giving thanks for some local success stories

Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It's starting to happen for this city. And for that, on this day to give thanks, we should all be grateful.

Sometimes it helps to see the details collected in one spot to get a feel for the scope of change that just might be coming.

So, first let's look at what's already in place:

• The Niagara Falls Culinary Institute: I can't think of anything that's made me happier in the city this year. It's a showplace with three great restaurant options and a Barnes & Nobles. What more could a foodie ask for?

• The Niagara Falls International Airport: I know. The new airport's been open since 2009, but this year was the first year I flew in and out of the place two different times. It was a revelation to me with easy access and parking, no waiting at the security check and comfortable waiting areas.

• The Giacomo Hotel:  Again, old news, but the elegant residence and boutique hotel brings an upscale stability to downtown, along with the much-needed presence of humans.

Coming soon:

• The Rainbow mall expansion: Two respected developers, Uniland and Intertrust, have been selected to offer proposals to transform the remainder of the former Rainbow Centre — beyond the culinary institute. Their plans could create all sorts of exciting new attractions downtown. 

• The Hamister Hotel: The $25 million hotel deal offered by developer Mark Hamister, with the help of a $2.75 million state grant, finally fought its way through the City Council, and will result is a high end retail and residential facility providing much needed upscale hotel space. Construction should start this spring.

The Fallside Hotel: Developer Faisal Merani is continuing his campaign of renovating city hotels, including the Inn by the River and the Holiday Inn.  Next is the Fallside Hotel and Conference Center on Buffalo Avenue. Merani has obtained $2 million grant from Empire State Development Corp. and another $750,000 from USA Niagara — to help complete the $18 million renovation.  

The Hotel Niagara: Canadian developer Harry Stinson has just finished his renovation of a schoolhouse, turning it into luxury apartments in Hamilton, Ont. Now he plans to turn his attention to the renovation of the beloved Hotel Niagara. He expects the hotel to be open by Jan. 2015. 

The train station and historic Customs House: Work recently stalled on the new $44 million train station and renovated Customs House because the lowest bid came in well over budget for the final construction phase. Funded largely through state and federal money, construction is expected to resume in spring. 

Development competition: The state and the city have partnered to launch the Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge, a major competition to select a team of world-class developers and operators to develop signature projects in the downtown area. The $40 million challenge is expected to spur offers from the best and brightest.

The state park: Along with eventual $25 million investment into the park from the state, there are also millions in planned improvements coming to the north and south Robert Moses, which will provide easier access to the Niagara River, as well as more trails and more landscaping to benefit resident and tourists.  

 As I was putting this column together I called Mayor Paul Dyster, just to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything. The mayor told me there is one thing that wraps all these developments together is the unprecedented support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Dyster said the governor could have walked away from his commitment to Niagara Falls when Hurricane Sandy decimated the east coast of this state. He could have walked away again when the Hamister deal appeared to held up by the party politics that plague this city, the mayor added.  

"He didn't do that. Instead he got personally involved," Dyster told me. "He reinvigorated his commitment." This city has never had that kind of attention from any governor, he added.

If residents of this long-beleaguered city are looking for something to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, that gubernatorial attention just might be exactly it.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.