Niagara Gazette

September 17, 2013

After a bit of intervention, Hamister hotel project approved by city council

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

A downtown hotel project that had been held up by a trio of city lawmakers has gained approval.

Robert Anderson Jr., one of the councilmen who voted to table a resolution to approve a proposed development agreement with the Hamister Group after raising concerns about the terms of the deal, voted first to remove the item from the table and then to approve the agreement at Monday's City Council meeting.

Anderson said Sam Hoyt, the regional president for the state's economic development office, contacted him last week on behalf of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an effort to address concerns he had with the terms of the project.

"For the last three to four days I have been personally working with Sam Hoyt and the Governor's office," Anderson said.

Hoyt was able to convince Anderson that his concerns - the presence of a performance bond, assurances that Hamister Group would not seek tax breaks beyond a standard 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement - would be addressed in the final contract, the councilman said before casting his vote to approve the project.

"There were four items on there that I thought were detrimental," Anderson said. "To protect the citizens they changed them."

The Hamister group was selected as the preferred developer through a state procurement process led by USA Niagara Development Corp., the state economic development office's local arm, a decision that was unanimously approved by the council in February of 2012.

The developer has proposed a $25.3 million mixed-use project that will have an upscale hotel, market rate apartments and ground level retail and dining.

The Hamister Group will receive the city-owned parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. for $100,000 and a $2.75 million grant from the state as incentives on the project.

Anderson and Hoyt held a press conference Monday morning to announce that they had come to an understanding and the agreement would be approved.

Hoyt said that in the process of contacting council members to discuss the deal he has created a relationship between Cuomo's office and the council that will be productive in continuing to push the city forward.

"I think it represents a new day in economic development and the future of Niagara Falls and I'm optimistic that we'll continue this momentum going forward," Hoyt said.

Anderson, along with Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian and Councilman Sam Fruscione, had first voted to table the agreement on July 8. Choolokian and Fruscione continued to voice concerns about the terms of the deal and both voted no to the measure approved by Anderson, Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti and Councilman Charles Walker Monday night.

Choolokian said he had hoped the state was going to announce material changes to the contract he and Fruscione were seeking such as an increase in the amount of money the city would receive from the developer for the parcel as part of the agreement.

"I was hoping we were going to come here with a new contract with the changes," Choolokian said.

Choolokian said the city has been given bad deals from the state throughout the years and that he is not happy that the council agreed to let Mayor Paul Dyster oversee the finalization of the contract by passing the resolution.

"I hope I'm wrong," Choolokian said. "I just know the history of New York state with Niagara Falls and it speaks for itself. Hopefully this project goes up and it's successful."

In other council news;

• The council voted to approve a contract extension with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. The contract, which had been tabled since the July 8 council meeting, covers a one year period that began on June 1 of this year and will run through June 18, 2014.

• The council approved a measure to award a demolition contract for 20 houses to the low bidder, Regional Environmental Demolition of Niagara Falls. The contract is worth $578,000.

• The council approved an allocation of $40,000 of casino revenues for the Niagara Military Affairs Council to support its efforts to secure the future of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.