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MAY 12 - MAY 19, 2015

Wonder Falls on the Rocks, Hamister Hotel Just a Memory; Dyster's Development "Strategy" Becoming Unhinged?

By Mike Hudson

May 12, 2015

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

In his headlong rush toward probable reelection to a third term in November, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster is fond of telling anyone who will listen about the $300 million in new development that's "in the pipeline" as a result of his hard work and diligent efforts. Another term is what he needs to bring these projects to fruition, he says.

But, like the water main on 72nd Street, the pipeline may already be blocked, leaking, or just plain froze up. That's because, in his headlong rush to hold news conferences announcing the potential developments, Dyster may have tried to save time on the due diligence process, a necessary step in determining whether or not a developer is ready, willing and able to complete the project.

Last week, the Niagara Falls Reporter detailed the internal strife going on between Uniland Development and Delaware North, which were selected in a secretive process by USA Niagara as the developers of Wonderfalls, a $150 million hotel and entertainment complex on the site of the Rainbow Center Mall. The developers originally asked for $101 million in public subsidies for their proposed $150 million project, later reducing the figure to $75 million - a two to one ratio.

One half private investment and one half taxpayer money. Documents made available this week under a Freedom of Information Law request show that another potential developer, lacking the political clout of the Uniland / Delaware North combine, may have actually submitted more attractive proposal. Word of the trouble between the partners leaked out, leading some to think of another major project that was announced with great fanfare and has thus far come to nothing, the $36 million Hamister hotel deal.

It was way back in February 2012 that politically connected Buffalo big shot Mark Hamister stood with Dyster to announce the construction of a resort style hotel with 104 upscale rooms, 24 residential units and up to 8,000 square feet of retail space. USA Niagara announced the hotel would create 130 permanent jobs causing some of the staff of this publication to snicker since that is more permanent jobs per room than the Hotel de Crillon in Paris.

Construction was to begin in the spring of 2013, so the race was on. When former councilman Sam Fruscione questioned the city gifting a million-dollar parcel of prime real estate at 310 Rainbow Blvd. to Hamister for a token payment of $100,000, an unprecedented media campaign was launched against him and he was driven from office. Branded as an obstructionist who personified the reasons behind the lack of development in the Cataract City, Fruscione's ignominious political end has been perhaps softened in the more than three years that have passed since the Hamister announcement. After all, the former councilman had merely asked whether Hamister had enough money of his own to get the project underway, and with each passing day it becomes clearer that he did not.

Like the Hamister hotel deal, the contract awarded to Uniland and Delaware North was not subjected to any sort of public bidding process. Their proposal was not the least expensive, it called for far more in government handouts than a competing proposal and Uniland's record in the hotel development field is non-existent.

Dismissed out of hand was a proposal from Intertrust Development, a division of Canadian Niagara Hotels Inc., which offered to do a similar attraction package with a $90 million total price and $27 million in public money. Canadian Niagara 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. The water park is one of the most wildly successful attractions on the Canadian side, and specifications for the Rainbow Mall project call for a similar facility to be built here.

Neither Uniland nor Delaware North have any experience whatsoever in water park development. Intertrust submitted a plan to develop the Rainbow Mall that included the splash park, a 75,000-square-foot, state of the art aquarium in partnership with the Aquarium of Niagara, a Rain Forest Café, and a host of other themed attractions. In 2013, it was announced that the Intertrust and Uniland/Delaware North proposals had passed a "pre-screening" process and were in line to develop the site. Last November, the Uniland proposal was selected.

Why would the costlier -- to taxpayers – proposal win out over the more economical one? Perhaps it's just a matter of personalities. Intertrust, like Canadian Niagara Hotels, is owned by the DiCienzo family, which has been far more active in hotel development than it has in politics. In a shocking revelation - the Reporter has uncovered that the DiCienzo family and/or their associated businesses have not donated a single dollar to the political campaigns of Andrew Cuomo or Paul Dyster.

That figure is Zero. The DiCienzos stand in stark contrast to Jeremy Jacobs of Delaware North and Carl Montante of Uniland, who gorge themselves at the public trough like welfare recipients at McDonald's. To say that Jacobs and Montante have friends in high places would be an understatement.

Montante and his company Uniland have made more than $22,000 in campaign contributions to Andrew Cuomo - and Montante is listed as the 19th largest donor to Cuomo in Erie County. Jeremy Jacobs of Delaware North and his wife, Margaret, gave $100,000 to Cuomo. And let us not forget Mark Hamister who has contributed $10,000 to Cuomo.

The Wonder Falls project was announced last August and resulted in a week's worth of headlines. Since then neither the developers nor any government officials have uttered a peep about it. This is never a good sign, and word of a dispute between Uniland and Delaware North over an unrelated project, a dispute that may see the partners suing each other in court, is just more bad news. And the only news heard about the Hamister project has been periodic announcements cutting down on the number of rooms the hotel will have, the number of jobs that will be created and a downgrading of the "upscale resort" status to one of "rather like a hotel you might find near a freeway exit ramp."

There has also been the rather pathetic sight of Hamister himself showing up in front of various government agencies looking for handouts, tax breaks or a free lunch. So it goes. Without Wonder Falls and the hotel, Dyster's much touted $300 million in development turns suddenly into $116 million, the bulk of which will be spent on a train station few will use. He's still heavily favored to win reelection, an outcome which would please Hamister, Montante and Jacobs to no end.





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Contact Info

©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
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