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JULY 01 - JULY 09, 2014

Hamister's Hotel Not Quite a Game Changer

By Tony Farina

July 01, 2014

As these Hyatt Place hotels (below) show, they are mid range hotels, and hardly transformational. From top Hyatt Places in Fort Worth, Rhome, Texas, Indianapolis, Fort Meyers.


It now appears that the Hamister Group is closing in on something at long last for its prime parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. in Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, it apparently is not going to going to be a Hilton Garden Inn that the developer is planning as the anchor for his Tishman Building project in Buffalo, or anything even close to that brand.

The best the Hamister Group seems to be able to do for Niagara Falls is a far cry from the kind of game-changing hotel that state and local politicians were predicting last fall—in the heat of an election battle--- when they said it was a sort of do-or-die project for the future of Niagara Falls downtown development.

It now looks like the best the Hamister Group was able to come up with is a Hyatt Place hotel, a brand designed by Hyatt with business travelers in mind, and that, frankly, should come as no surprise as Niagara Falls is not the place for a top shelf Park Hyatt or even a Hyatt Regency. But council members, like Sam Fruscione, who dared question the arrangement, were branded as obstructionists who were standing in the way of progress.

"I told you so," says Fruscione, the former Niagara Falls councilman who lost his seat because he dared question the deal giving Hamister the prime city parcel for $100,000, a fraction of its assessed value, after the Buffalo developer was selected behind closed doors by the state's USA Niagara and Empire State Development agencies, in concert with a compliant Mayor Paul Dyster who has never seen a state deal he doesn't like.

One prominent local developer, who preferred to speak anonymously, told me Hamister is having a great deal of trouble coming up with the $3 to $4 million he needs to land even the Hyatt Place hotel given his ambitious Buffalo project and the lack of an appetite by major hoteliers to come to Niagara Falls where the hotel occupancy rate hovers between 50 and 60 percent.

"He's (Hamister) got a problem trying to do both [Buffalo and Niagara Falls], and he's probably stretched right now," the developer told me. "It is going to be highly leveraged."

That appears to be the case even though the Hamister Group has pretty much has had its own way in Niagara Falls, with $2.75 million earmarked by the state, courtesy of USA Niagara, to help the millionaire developer along with a slew of tax breaks and other financial incentives, and the "gift" of city land.

Does Niagara Falls really need another hotel given the nearby Seneca hotel where they give away rooms to visitors, and the less-than-stellar hotel occupancy rate despite the eight million tourists that come to see the falls every year?

Many who questioned the wisdom of the Hamister project thought the prime Rainbow Blvd. parcel sitting just 300 feet from the entrance to the state park would be better suited to an attraction of some sort, possibly capitalizing on the historic Nik Wallenda gorge walk by building an entertainment center featuring the Wallenda family of aerialists. Didn't happen, and you can catch the Wallenda family performing down the Thruway at Darien Lake this summer if you are interested.

But the push was on, from the governor on down, to favor the Hamister Group with the land and to build what the governor, Mayor Dyster, George Maziarz, and John Ceretto, all hailed as the answer to the city's prayers, tripping over each other to endorse the governor's endorsement.

"It [Hamister hotel] could help turn the tide of development in Niagara Falls," said Cuomo last September.

Not to be outdone, Mayor Dyster called it as transformational project and said "the Hamister hotel will reinforce Niagara Falls as a premier destination in the nation."


Now, several months later with construction of something still several months away, the city can lick its chops over getting a 146-room Hyatt Place business hotel although final renderings have still not been presented to the planning board. Maybe later this month, say the Hamister people.

The $25 million Hyatt Place, if finally built, will not even have a covered walkway to the nearby Rainbow Centre parking ramp because, according to a Hamister spokesman, the cost and the impact on customers quickly turned architects designing the hotel away from including it beyond the original proposal.

"It [the covered walkway] just wasn't feasible," Josh Klotzbach, director of construction for the Hamister Group, told the Niagara Gazette. "We want pedestrian traffic in the city." I hope somebody asks him about that comment come blizzard time.

We still don't know for sure all the details of what's going on, aided significantly by taxpayer dollars, and that's because from the governor on down, not much is being said. The state's development agencies guard the governor at all costs and won't respond to questions about how they spend the public's money. But spend it they do, especially on salaries for Empire State's Sam Hoyt and USA Niagara's Chris Shoepflin, and their staffs. But don't dare ask them what they are spending it on, or who is getting their gifts of public dollars.

For better or worse, and only time will tell for sure, Niagara Falls will be getting a business hotel in the heart of downtown to, as the governor said, "turn the tide of development."

Would the tourists who come from around the world to see Niagara Falls been better served if the politicians had decided to build a family attraction rather than a rest stop for business travelers? It's not like there is a shortage of hotel rooms in Niagara Falls given the high vacancy rate and the Seneca room giveaways, with more likely to come sooner rather than later. There is not, but now there will be a few more rooms to choose from thanks, mostly, to the largesse of government, and, dare I say it, another Maid of the Mist-type government handout to a favored developer.

Maybe Sam Fruscione had it right after all.


While Hyatt Place rooms are nice, they are hardly luxury.





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