Niagara Gazette

August 2, 2013

GUEST VIEW: The Hamister hotel project - by the numbers

By Kristen Grandinetti
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Numbers don’t lie. A new job-creating, tax-producing development is being jeopardized in Niagara Falls. This is the same information I presented at the last city council meeting, not because I am running for re-election, but because it’s my job to focus on the facts.

The city council majority, made of Councilmen Glenn Choolokian, Sam Fruscione and Robert Anderson, voted to table the sale of 310 Rainbow Blvd. to the Hamister Group twice in July. The Hamister Group wants to create the first privately funded downtown mixed-use development in a generation. The project has not changed since the city council unanimously selected the Hamister Group as the preferred developer in 2012. Now, misinformation is spreading and that is unacceptable. So here is the 310 Rainbow Blvd. Project by the numbers:

• $25.3 million: The total project cost for the project, including a 114-room hotel, 24 apartments and up to 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

 55: Estimated construction jobs created.

• 23: Full-time equivalent – estimated permanent jobs created after constructions.

• $0: Amount of cash being requested from the city of Niagara Falls. The Hamister Group is privately funding 90 percent of the project cost, and working with Empire State Development and the Niagara County IDA for their assistance, not the city’s.

• $100,000: The city’s sale price of the land. The lot is officially assessed at $215,800 and was last sold for $145,000 in 2001. The highest bid received during last year’s procurement process was for the assessed value, but it requested city incentives that we disagreed with. Any multi-million dollar “estimates” are being misinterpreted. Also, if so many “business people” are willing to pay top dollar, where have they been over the last four decades?

• 27 years: Time this land sat undeveloped between 1981 and 2013. It is the painful reminder of Urban Renewal’s failure. It was gifted to the city as part of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute project, and I want it developed. The sale of the property is the city’s part of the Hamister agreement. The council majority understood that idea all along. At the Feb. 22, 2012, council meeting, Choolokian asked (word-for-word), “Are we still on track that this is going to cost the city of Niagara Falls no money involved other than giving you guys the land?” The answer now, as it was then, is yes. Not only are we not contributing money, we are selling the property for profit, not giving it away.

• $3.1 million: Estimated city tax revenue over the next 10 years, assuming the developer receives a Niagara County IDA Pilot. Right now, the city only receives $27,000 per year for a lease agreement on the property. If we ruin this project, we are leaving serious money on the table. Don’t we have enough vacant land with for sale signs in Niagara Falls?

• $35,000: Annual amount that the Hamister Group will pay the city to lease parking ramp spaces. The parking agreement would bring in more than the entire current land lease! More revenue and use of our parking ramp. It’s just common sense.

• 3,000 vs. 13,000 hotel rooms: Niagara Falls Canada has 11,000 more hotel rooms than we do. If we want to compete for tourism dollars and new attractions, more high-quality hotels rooms are needed.

• $2.1 million: Estimated bed tax over a 10-year period, created by the project. Right now, the property creates zero bed tax. (it could even be more with the occupancy trends rising the way they have been.)

First it wasn’t transparent … now it has special language in the agreement to give the mayor special power.

This is a standard agreement that the city council did not object to at the start. There is no language in the agreement that gives anyone an inordinate amount of power. This is a stand up deal ... from a stand up developer. Sometimes I worry that folks around here don’t want outside developers with their own cash to invest here. But that can’t be true ... can it? We don’t want old school business as usual going on here? We are really thrilled that developers of this caliber are giving us a second look ... aren’t we?

This project is about creating jobs and tax revenue, adding storefronts, developing vacant land, and people spending time and money in Niagara Falls. All of this directly benefits the taxpayers of Niagara Falls.

If we do not honor agreements and try to run developers out of town after a transparent “Request for Proposal” process, new developers will NOT knock on our door. Jobs will NOT be created, tax revenue will be lost, and land will sit vacant. But, I do not have to tell the people of Niagara Falls this in words. We have lived that disappointing reality of land speculation and disinvestment for the past 40 years. Finally, real, reputable investment is happening and commerce is moving. Projects are getting completed, and we see true progress. Do we really want to ruin the development of 310 Rainbow Blvd. and take a huge step backward?

Use Grandinetti, Kristen mug we have on file

Kristen Grandinetti is a member of the Niagara Falls City Council.