Niagara Gazette

December 30, 2013

TOP STORIES (2): Hamister hotel fiasco gets Cuomo's attention

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A new hotel is set to go up in the heart of downtown next year, but the deal that brought developer Mark Hamister to town was one of the most controversial topics of the year in Niagara Falls.

Hamister’s company, the Hamister Group, was awarded an incentive package from the state after being selected as the preferred developer by USA Niagara Development Corp. — the state’s local economic development arm — in February of 2012, the result of a procurement process.

That move was approved by the city council with the understanding the Hamister Group would receive a $2.75 million grant from the state and would be given the city-owned parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd.

During negotiations the company agreed to pay the city $100,000 for the land which was gifted to the city by Baltimore developer David Cordish as part of the deal that saw the state and city take the former Rainbow Centre Mall building across the street.

But this July, when the proposed development agreement came before the council, three lawmakers — Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian, Councilman Sam Fruscione and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. — decided to table the agreement saying they had concerns the city was not getting enough for the parcel and that agreement did not include other provisions necessary to protect the city.

After that meeting, Hamister said he would delay the project while the concerns of the council members were addressed.

“We are going to try and stay patient for at least another month or two while the appropriate elected officials work out the issues that they have and advance questions,” Hamister said in July.

But for months the three council members continued to vote to keep the measure tabled saying their concerns had not been addressed despite efforts from state officials and Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson as their colleagues on the council, Councilman Charles Walker and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, attempted several times to bring the measure to the floor for a vote.

Hamister had planned a press conference in early September where he was to announce that he was walking away from the project out of frustration with the intransigent council majority.

But that event was cancelled at the last minute after the developer received a call from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“He made it clear to me that this project was important to his overall plan for the region and he would get personally involved to make sure it goes forward,” Hamister told the Gazette this fall.

Anderson, one of the three councilman stalling the project, was convinced to change his vote after several calls and a visit from Cuomo’s local point man Sam Hoyt and the proposed agreement was passed in the middle of September.

The final details of the agreement were hashed out by representatives of all involved parties and Johnson filed a copy of the completed agreement with the city clerk’s office on Dec. 23.

The developer is now working to secure a flagship for the hotel and will work on final design of the building this winter and spring.

Hamister said he hopes to have shovels in the ground this summer at a Cuomo press event marking the completed deal days after the agreement was passed by the council.

“I look forward to this project being the seed for many more projects, not just by us, but by others,” Hamister said after the event. “We can really start to make the two sides of the border a little more equal.”

TOP 10 The Gazette is counting down its top stories of 2013 through Jan. 1. Here's the list so far: n 10: Teens involved in Isabella Tenant murder sent to prison n 9: 2013 brings change to Niagara University n 8: Lewiston Civic Center saga n 7: Fashion Outlets seeks $71M expansion n 6: Town of Niagara supervisor indicted n 5: Signs of progress for troubled Falls roads n 4: Elections bring change to political landscape n 3: Maid of the Mist focuses on U.S. site n 2: Hamister hotel deal n 1: Coming Wednesday

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257