Niagara Gazette

February 13, 2013

An upgrade for the Comfort Inn?

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A downtown hotel property is heading for a makeover as part of an effort by the owners to maintain its franchise label.

Representatives from Maid of the Mist Hospitality, LLC — the company that owns the Comfort Inn The Pointe hotel at 1 Prospect Point downtown — told officials from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency on Wednesday that they plan to invest $4 million to refurbish the site and bring it up to the standards of Choice Hotels, the chain in charge of the Comfort Inn franchise. 

The hotel's owners have requested a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement through the agency to assist with the financing of the project, which will involve updates of all guest rooms, including bathrooms, lighting, carpeting, wall finishes, air conditioning and windows. In addition, new carpeting and finishes will be installed in the corridors and lobby, elevator cabs and hydraulics will be replaced and new public restrooms and a fitness center will be constructed. Facade improvements and parking lot repairs will also be undertaken, according to the firm's application to the NCIDA. 

"It will give an entirely new look to the product to bring it up to the Choice standards," said Tricia Mezhir, the hotel's general manager. 

Maid of the Mist Hospitality, which is a subsidiary of the Maid of the Mist Corp. boat tour operators, has applied for a 10-year commercial PILOT as well as sales and mortgage recording tax exemptions. NCIDA officials estimate that the project will result in the retention of 17 full- and 47 part-time jobs at the hotel as well as the creation of one full-time and four part-time positions by the end of year three of the deal. 

The agency estimates that the firm will receive $560,000 in property tax exemptions during the PILOT period as well as $183,000 in sales tax exemptions on construction and furnishings. The agency estimates that Maid of the Mist Hospitality would pay $284,000 in property tax payments under the proposed agreement. With the PILOT payments, the hotel's annual payroll of $787,000, the new jobs to be created, annual labor income of indirect jobs created, sales tax revenue to be generated and the value of the renovated facility, the NCIDA estimates that the project will have a $3.9 million benefit to the community.

Maid of the Mist Hospitality purchased the hotel, which is located next to Niagara Falls State Park, in 2009 from its former owner, Sevenson Hotel Associates. In its application to the NCIDA, the company indicated that the 23-year-old property still contains the original furnishings and fixtures and, because the original owners did not refurbish the hotel for more than 20 years, the Choice Hotels franchise is requiring updates within specific completion deadlines. 

The board voted unanimously to accept the company's application for assistance, however board member Steve Brady noted that he was not entirely comfortable with the idea of the agency offering incentives to a business that is essentially undergoing a makeover without expanding its offerings.

"One might argue that, in some ways, it's maintenance," Brady said, referring to the proposed hotel upgrades.

Mezhir noted that failure to meet the deadlines for the proposed upgrade would result in her company losing the Comfort Inn franchise flag, a situation that she suggested could result in a loss of jobs at the facility. 

"In order to remain competitive in the marketplace, it's critical that we retain the franchise," she said. 

In accepting the application, the board set a public hearing on the project for 4 p.m. March 6 at Niagara Falls City Hall, 745 Main St.

The application is expected to be considered for approval by the board after the hearing has been held.