By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Talks surrounding a major downtown hotel project have remained positive and give city lawmakers confidence that negotiations can move forward.
City Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said that after several meetings with Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson he feels that some of the concerns that he and his colleagues of the council majority — Councilman Sam Fruscione and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. — have aired in regards to the proposed development agreement between Buffalo developer Hamister Group, USA Niagara Development Corp. and the city are being addressed.
Hamister was chosen as the preferred developer after a state procurement process and has announced plans to build a $26 million mixed-use building on the city-owned plot located at 310 Rainbow Blvd. that would include a hotel, apartments retail and restaurants.
"I think we're moving in the right direction," Choolokian said.
The majority voted to table a resolution in July that would allow Mayor Paul Dyster's administration to sign off on a development agreement executed by Hamister, USA Niagara and the city, citing concerns over the broad power the resolution would give Dyster and the $100,000 the developer would pay, a price set below the land's assessed value as part of an incentives package put together for the deal.
Choolokian said he, Fruscione and Anderson wanted make sure the city did not make a mistake in giving away too much in the deal as has happened in the past.
"We could have voted this project down if we didn't like it," Choolokian said. "We love projects. We just want to make sure the taxpayers come first and don't get stuck with another bad deal."
Johnson said he has had a series of meetings with Choolokian and Fruscione in an effort to answer their questions and concerns while giving an update on negotiations at Tuesday's council meeting.
The city, Hamister Group and USA Niagara are "working diligently" to make certain that all changes to language in the document are to the council majority's satisfaction so that the agreement can be returned to the council for a vote, Johnson said.
"Hopefully at that time council will be satisfied that this agreement is in fact in its final form and take action," Johnson said.
In other council news;
• The council voted to table a resolution to adopt the Community Development budget. The department's director, Seth Piccirillo, was denied the opportunity to present the budget before Tuesday's meeting and again during the meeting when Dyster offered Piccirillo's explanation. Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti cast the only no vote to table the resolution.
• The council approved a walk-on item to allocate $1,800 for grass cutting services meant for a tract of land owned by the New York State Department of Transportation that runs between Frontier and Stephenson Avenues in the city's LaSalle neighborhood, which has experienced a rat infestation recently. The city is working with DOT and expects them to mow the area after the rats have been exterminated, but put the funding in place in case the state agency drags their feet.
• The council approved the allocation of $6,000 to hire a seasonal clerical aid for the Department of Public Works' administration division through the end of the year. Grandinetti cast the only no vote.
• The council voted to allocate $4,000 to keep the city's golf course open past the original close date. City Controller Maria Brown said that keeping the course open longer will help to pay the salaries of full-time employees who work at the golf course.
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257