Niagara Gazette

October 5, 2013

Press event on Falls development challenge draws crowd of developers

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy visited Niagara Falls on Friday to tout a development competition partnership between the city and state meant to spark the development of attractions downtown.

Duffy, standing in front of a crowd of developers and political players, lauded the plan — announced by Gov. Cuomo’s office on Thursday — to make $40 million of state and city money available over the next five years in the effort to leverage private investment and create more entertainment opportunities for tourists.

Duffy said the competition would “spark creativity” and drive developers to come up with ideas that would cause tourists to stay longer and spend more money in the city and region.

“It’s $40 million at a very, very tough time, a very tough economy,” Duffy said. “It’ll be a great shot in the arm to get some things going.”

Duffy said that positive developments in the Falls — the planned Hamister Group hotel project, the current proposals for the redevelopment of the former Rainbow Centre Mall building — are signs of a building momentum downtown.

“You have so much to build upon, so much to be proud of here,” Duffy said. “This is just one more enhancement.”

The public contribution will be split between the state and the city, with $4 million coming from Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” fund and $4 million in casino revenues from the city each year.

Incentives will be awarded by a panel of yet-to-be-named city and state officials who will aim to pick the most creative plans and leverage the largest amount of private investment.

The panel will run the competition with support from Empire State Development and the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

Mayor Paul Dyster said the city, with the help of the state, has done well to attract hotel developers in recent years, but now needs to add to the great attractions — the aquarium, the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute — that already exist in order to lure more tourists and keep them in the city longer.

“We know we need more,” he said. “We need more, especially for people with families, to do in the downtown area.”

Now that many hotel rooms are scheduled to open in the coming years it is time to move on to the next piece of the tourism puzzle by developing more entertainment opportunities for visitors, he added.

“There are lots and lots and lots of ideas for ways we might meet that demand for recreation,” Dyster said.

The committee is scheduled to send out a request for proposals in December and begin reviewing submissions in January.

Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he has been attending press conferences discussing the need for attractions in Niagara Falls for many years.

“We’ve had a lot of press conferences like this, and I certainly have been a part of many of them, about a new program or something else,” Maziarz said. “This one really has to work.”

Maziarz said he has seen too many plans go unused over the years and vowed to make sure that the money from the competition would be used for development, not planning.

“My laser-like focus is going to be on bricks and mortar, on getting this money to developers to assist them in building projects,” he said.

Nirel Patel, who is in the process of turning the vacant Moore Business Forms building on Buffalo Avenue into a Courtyard by Marriott with his father B.F. Patel, said the plan will help developers create attractions that will appeal to a wide range of demographics.

There is little to do on the American side of the gorge for younger people in particular, he added.

“We have nothing for them to do in the downtown corridor,” Patel said.

Patel’s family also owns the Econolodge downtown and they are in the process renovating the Niagara Club with plans for event venues, restaurants and a possibility for retail space.

Patel said he feels as though the city, and region, has a lack of up-scale, big city style night clubs that could attract a younger crowd.

But, Patel stressed, it will be important to have a wide range of entertainment options to attract the greatest number of tourists possible.

“If you want to capitalize on certain aspects of bringing a younger demographic in look into more attractions that are wider than geared toward one specific group,” Patel said.

Patel said that his company has been making efforts to provide more entertainment for their hotel guests and any initiatives that will help create a greater range of entertainment options will help hotels throughout the city.

“This initiative is fantastic and will definitely be of assistance to us,” Patel said.

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