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Momentum Obscured Hamister Hotel Facts

Now that the Hamister hotel deal is all but accomplished - subject, of course, to Hamister actually building it - and the Niagara Falls City Council all but certain to change next year - due in part to the publicity surrounding the Hamister deal - the Niagara Falls Reporter is curious about how this all happened.

There were over 150 news articles on the Hamister hotel project - most of them prominent or lead stories. The Niagara Gazette and the Buffalo News had around 100 between them. There were dozens of TV news stories, with WGRZ leading in coverage among local TV news outlets. In these stories, two dozen elected officials were quoted in favor of the project including the governor, a U.S. senator, a congressmen, the local state senator, the local state assemblyman, the entire 15-member Niagara County Legislature, the mayor and at first two, then finally a third city council member - 24 elected officials on record saying that a 100-room hotel is absolutely vital to a city that has 3,000 hotel rooms.

We were half expecting President Obama to make a declaration before we remembered that Mark Hamister hosted a $10,000 per person party for locals to meet and have their picture taken with Mitt Romney last fall.

Still, how many 100-room hotel projects that promise a mere 24 permanent jobs got this kind of attention?

How many 100-room hotels got the governor of New York to "entreat" the developer to stay in the deal after a political flier was reported as ready to spook him and his $25 million dollar deal right out of Niagara Falls?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that to have lost this deal "would have really been a tragedy."

And one might also want to look into the statements and misstatements presented to the public. To cite one of the latter, it was reported there were going to be "349 proposed full- and part-time jobs associated with Hamister hotel project."

It turned out that was dead wrong. The latest estimate is a total of 79; 55 construction and 24 full-time jobs.

Why was there no interest in seeing what the competing bids were, and how Hamister was selected? Was the RFP predesigned to make sure Hamister got the deal?

The details of the other bids remain secret.

Why has no one been interested in the fact that almost all elected officials that supported the deal were recipients of campaign contributions from Hamister?

The hotel has been described as the "tipping point" project for Niagara Falls; it was "vital," "transformational," "absolutely essential," and not to do approve it was "insane."

Could it be true that a 100-room hotel is so important that not to approve it is a sign of insanity?

Then there was a penalty imposed on the three men who questioned the deal - Councilmen Robert Anderson (who later switched his vote), Councilman Sam Fruscione and Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian.

They were called "the three stooges," the "three blind mice," "morons," "idiots," and "loony" and worse.

Ultimately it did succeed in upsetting the balance of power of the Niagara Falls council majority who were concerned about the amount of subsidy, the giving away and underutilization of prime land, the terms of the proposed contract, and how a politically wired man got this deal for a hotel.

The Hamister proposal turned out to be an opportunity to oust Fruscione, who, as the third vote on the council, stood between not only Hamister but other moneyed interests in getting what they want out of the state and city coffers.

Fruscione was targeted, and, admittedly, he foolishly stood in the open and when he was not being shot by others he shot himself, time and time again, by his dismal and arrogant interviews with the media.

While he was not careless with his facts, he was careless in civility, and became a useful tool to make the council majority look ridiculous.

On the other hand, the carelessness of fact presentation by pro Hamister forces was astounding. For instance, it was stated this hotel is the first to be built in decades, when, at this very moment, there is a similarly-sized hotel being built on Niagara Falls Blvd.

Or that the Hamister hotel will bring in tens of millions in taxes?

Tens of millions would take 40 years.

If the amount of taxpayer money paid to Hamister to build his hotel increases - presently, he is slated to receive $2.75 million from USA Niagara, a 10-year property tax break from the county IDA and the right to buy the city's land, appraised at $1.5 million in 2012, for $100,000 - this should be told to the public.

It is now a settled fact that Hamister was ready to call it quits (after an insulting political flier went out) and that, but for Gov. Andrew Cuomo who entreated Hamistser to stay in the deal, he would have backed out.

Cuomo's credibility is on the line. If Hamister cannot raise the money, based on the original deal, and threatens to walk again, will the governor step in and add to the Hamister subsidy?

If so, what happens to the integrity of the original RFP process where half-dozen bidders put in bids?

Finally, will this hotel, if it is built, be the turning point for Niagara Falls?

Hamister is approved. The city is saved.

"There is a different dynamic and there is a different attitude and there is a different energy about Niagara Falls," the governor said as he signed the Hamister deal.

How he measures this different energy no one knows.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

SEP 24, 2013