Niagara Gazette

November 18, 2013

With contract signed, Hamister project moving forward

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

The contract for a controversial downtown hotel project is completed and has been signed by all necessary parties.

The development agreement between the Hamister Group, USA Niagara Development Corp. and the city of Niagara Falls was signed by the developers, state officials and Mayor Paul Dyster on Friday, sealing the deal on the project.

Andrea Czopp, the director of communications and government relations for the health care facility and hotel developer, said that with the agreement in place the company has evidence of site control and can begin applying for a flagship brand.

"Now that this is signed we can begin to do the internal labor and work to get back to the time frame we originally wanted to be on," Czopp said.

Laura Magee, the deputy director of public affairs for Empire State Development's Buffalo office, did not supply the Gazette with a copy of the contract when it was requested Monday, but said the state would be able to provide the completed agreement by the end of the week in an email.

Magee also said that terms outlined in the proposed agreement passed by the city council in September were all included in the agreement, which totals more than 100 pages.

Czopp said once the developer has signed on with a flagship they will move to get all the pieces in place to begin construction.

"(The flagship) will determine next steps which will include design, contractors, etcetera," Czopp said.

The deal, which was part of a state-run procurement process led by USA Niagara, will see the Hamister Group purchase a city-owned parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. where they will build a 100,000-square-foot building with a hotel, retail and residential space with the help of a $2.75 million state grant.

The project's estimated total cost is $25 million.

The project became controversial this summer when three council members — Chairman Glenn Choolokian, Councilman Sam Fruscione and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. — voted to table the proposed agreement citing concerns over the amount of money the developer would pay for the land and liability the city might face if the developer began the project but then backed out with liens tied to the property.

Mark Hamister, the chairman and CEO of the development company, was prepared to walk away from the deal and had called a press conference Sept. 7 to announce that decision, but stayed on after receiving a phone call from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson acted as an intermediary between the council and state officials, supplying the council with information and answering question regarding the deal. The three council members continued maintain that their concerns had not been sufficiently addressed until Sam Hoyt, the regional president for Empire State Development, personally visited Anderson on behalf of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an effort to get the veteran lawmaker to change his vote.

Anderson agreed to supply the needed third vote — Councilman Charles Walker and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti had voiced support for the project all along — which allowed the council to pass the proposed development agreement, providing an outline for the full contract.

Attorneys for all parties have been working out the details of the agreement in the weeks since and were able to complete the document late last week.