Niagara Gazette

July 21, 2013

Still unclear if council majority will act on $25M project at Wednesday's meeting

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A trio of city lawmakers who placed an agreement with a Buffalo hotel developer on hold earlier this month will be asked to give the document a second look.

Mayor Paul Dyster and council members Kristin Grandinetti and Charles Walker all said they intend to ask the members of the council majority who voted to table an agreement with the Hamister Development Corp. to reconsider their votes during Wednesday’s council meeting.

Dyster wants the council majority to take action on the agreement before the council recesses for the month of August. He is calling for majority members, including Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian and his council colleagues Sam Fruscione and Robert Anderson, Jr., to make a decision on the proposed $25-million hotel project so that his administration and all parties involved can either schedule construction or work towards another use for the land.

“I am going to be urging the council to do the people’s business and take a stand on this thing one way or another,” Dyster said.

Choolokian said he intends to keep the matter tabled. He said he is not trying to kill the project through delays, but if Hamister walks away because of the council’s inaction then it was not meant to be.

“It’s not a life-altering project that’s going to change the city of Niagara Falls,” the council chairman said.

Choolokian, Fruscione and Anderson voted to table an agreement earlier this month that would have allowed Hamister to acquire city-owned property located at 310 Rainbow Blvd. for the purposes of building a multi-story hotel and mixed-use building. All three lawmakers expressed concern about the process leading up to Hamister’s selection as the project’s “preferred developer,” a distinction they joined Grandinetti and Walker in approving in February of 2012. Council majority members also said they believed the city deserved far more than the $100,000 asking price for the parcel from Hamister, basing their views on an estimate supplied to them by City Assessor James Byrd who suggested the land may be worth as much as $2 million.

Dyster fears failure by the majority to approve the deal could result in the developer walking away from the project, which represents a $9-to-$1 private versus public investment ratio, according to state economic development officials.

“The project could fall by the wayside,” Dyster said.

Grandinetti and Walker have both said that they will push their colleagues to vote on the matter during Wednesday’s meeting.

Grandinetti said she is worried about the message the council would be sending to other developers if the Hamister deal unravels.

“If we screw this deal up, we’re going to tell the whole world that we’re not ready to move forward,” she said.

But it remains unclear whether a vote will take place as Fruscione — who was on vacation when reached by phone Friday — said he would only make a decision on whether to remove the item from the table after discussing the matter with his colleagues.

“I have no clue what I’m going to do right now,” Fruscione said.

Anderson did not return several phone calls seeking comment on Friday.

Choolokian said he will vote to keep the item tabled until the council has more thoroughly researched the value of the land.

“There’s no rush to speed it up,” he said. “We’re going to slow it down.”

Choolokian said, with the deal already over a year in the making, he does not believe that Hamister Group would walk away from the project if a decision is not reached before the council’s August recess.

“I don’t think another month or two is going to kill the project,” he said.

Andrea Czopp, the director of communications for Hamister Group, would not say exactly what would happen with the project if the council goes to August recess without taking action on the measure.

The company will wait and see what happens with the council meeting next week, she said.

“We think it’s best to let them sort out the details before making any decisions regarding the future of the project,” Czopp said.

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