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MAY 05 - MAY 12, 2015

Uniland, Delaware North at Odds; Dispute Could Threaten Wonder Falls Project

By Tony Farina

May 05, 2015

DiCienzo's project required one third the public subsidy that Wonderfalls requested, yet Uniland and Delaware North were selected. USA Niagara refuses to disclose to DiCienzo why they were not chosen.

Developer Michael DiCienzo, whose family owns properties with a total of 3600 hotel rooms divided up on both sides of the border, and a number of attractions, including the $50 million plus Falls View Indoor Water Park, submitted a plan to develop the Rainbow Mall with a giant splash park, a 75,000 state of the art aquarium, wherein the developer would partner with the Aquarium of Niagara, a Rain Forest Café, and a host of other themed attractions. But USA Niagara chose Uniland/Delaware North last fall.

Carl Montante of Uniland (above) and Jeremy Jacobs of Delaware North (below) are not shy about asking the state to extract from hard working taxpayers the money needed to help pay for their developmental needs.

Tensions are reported to be at the boiling point between Delaware North and Uniland Development at the site of the new global headquarters for Delaware North under construction in downtown Buffalo, a nasty dispute that sources say could derail their partnership in the much-hyped $150-million Rainbow Mall project in Niagara Falls and lead to the filing of lawsuits by both parties.

We first reported in May of 2013 before anything was announced publicly that Uniland was in line for substantial public financial incentives to build the office building at Delaware and Chippewa and lure Delaware North a few blocks from its offices at the Key Center in a project that generated controversy for leaving Key Center in a lurch and for close to $8 million in tax breaks doled out to the corporate giants involved in the move.

Now we are learning that all is not going so well between the two mega-billion dollar companies over construction issues, including change orders and cost overruns, at the Delaware-Chippewa site which Delaware North said was the only site that would work as a global headquarters after the public outcry over the big public handouts of taxpayer money to the two companies. At one point, Delaware North even made noise about possibly leaving town if it didn't get the public assistance it was seeking.

Both companies eventually got pretty much everything they were looking for, but the honeymoon apparently has nonetheless gone sour and sources close to the situation say it is so bad it could derail their partnership in the $150-million Wonder Falls project at the Rainbow Mall in Niagara Falls announced last August by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The state tapped Uniland as the lead company for the development consortium that includes Delaware North and Cannon Design for the Niagara Falls project which is supposed to receive $50 million of the Buffalo Billion funding (taxpayer money) for a new complex featuring a hotel tower and water park. Now, sources say, the fact that nothing has happened since that initial announcement last August could well be a sign the project is in trouble because of the ongoing tension between the two major firms involved.

Sam Hoyt, a key player in the state's economic development team, could not be reached for comment on Monday, but sources say Uniland and Delaware North are at the point where legal action is seen as likely between them and tensions are running very high. That would not seem to bode well for the Niagara Falls project which could put it right alongside the Hamister Hotel as a possible no-show for the resurrection of downtown Niagara Falls.

The city pretty much gave away the Hamister site, across from the Rainbow Mall Wonder Falls dream, for a new hotel. But after months of hype, nothing has happened on the ground and the state agencies remain mum.

The state's silence on development contracts, mostly carried out behind closed doors, is exemplified by the failure of Empire State Development to respond to requests for information and later a FOIL request on the Wonder Falls award by a competitor for the project, Michael DiCienzo, a major Canadian hotel developer, who has not only not been given the information he requested but the state has pulled his funding for the Days Inn, which he suggested in an email obtained by the Niagara Falls Reporter for his FOIL on the Wonder Falls deal.

DiCienzo had requested a debriefing on the Wonder Falls award within days of the announcement and received what he describes in his email as a "minimal de-brief" five months later. His FOIL request of Jan. 28 has continually been extended by the state.

When asked about the delay in the Wonder Falls project, Niagara Falls Council President Andy Touma said Monday night he will see what he can find out since he really doesn't know if there's a problem and no one in the Dyster Administration has hinted of any problem.

Stay tuned.

The Wonderfalls project may be derailed because of tensions between two partners.

Next week we plan to look at the very curious and startling questions raised in a spate of FOIL requests made by DiCienzo to USA Niagara about the secret selection process that led to Uniland/Delaware North's selection.






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POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina