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He Said, She Said, on Hamister Deal

By Lori Lane

Kristen Grandinetti.

Robert Anderson

Any resemblance to this character and Mark Hamister are purely coincidental.

The parcel once served as a lucrative city-owned parking lot, and then it was given to developer David Cordish, who developed the Great American Balloon Co.'s tethered helium balloon ride. After that closed, it was turned over to the city by Niagara County Community College after the college acquired it as part of Cordish's agreement to release his rights to the former Rainbow Centre Mall building downtown.

Robert Anderson, a three-term councilman, said the way the Dyster administration handled the Hamister deal was sneaky and suspicious.

“It’s always super-secret around city hall," Anderson said. "It’s no way to do business. Information is held back and when it’s shared, it comes to us late. Look, it’s obvious that this is the name of the game with this administration: hold information until the last minute, build pressure on the Council through the media and then the Mayor almost always gets his way. It may be the Mayor’s way of doing business, but it’s not the acceptable way of doing business.

On July 3, the actual deal with Hamister was revealed for the first time. That same day, a story appeared in the Niagara Gazette announcing that the council majority had concerns about the Hamister Deal, including the giveaway of a multi-million dollar parcel for $100,000 to Hamister, and quoting USA Niagara spokesperson Laura Magee: "The city has been well aware since it unanimously approved Hamister as the preferred developer that its contribution to the project would be the land."

She is quoted: "We respectfully encourage the council to deliver its part of this transaction that will result in the first new, non-casino building in the downtown tourism district in approximately 40 years. The project will produce construction and permanent jobs, new tax revenues and economic activity that will substantially contribute to the revitalization of downtown Niagara Falls."

Magee, of course, was wrong about new tax revenues, since the deal with the city and USA Niagara is contingent on Hamister getting an IDA tax-free PILOT program.

Mayor Paul Dyster, however, said, "It was very well understood what the city was going to contribute to this deal… All council members, including those in the council majority, were made aware of the various elements of the proposal throughout the process. He noted that Johnson, who works on behalf of both the mayor's office and the city council, has been involved in numerous meetings in recent months." 

“The Mayor has a troubling relationship with the truth," Councilman Sam Fruscione said. "We were never kept informed, not by USA Niagara, not by the Mayor’s corporation counsel, and certainly not by Chris Schoepflin of USA Niagara.

Councilwoman Kristin Grandinetti said, "Council members were fully briefed on various aspects of the project back in February [2012], when they selected Hamister as the preferred developer."

Anderson disagreed. “The Council was briefed at the February 2012 meeting, along with the general public at the meeting. Broad strokes and few details, nothing of substance ever followed that Council meeting.

Grandinetti said her colleagues omitted an important financial aspect: parking revenue. 

Hamister is expected to lease spaces inside the city-owned Rainbow Parking ramp for customer parking.

Will that be a significant source of income?

The Rainbow Ramp charges regular downtown customers, such as hotel owners, one dollar per day per parking space.

Anyone can get a monthly pass for $30 a month for a space.

The significant revenues Grandinetti is speaking about might amount to $40,000 a year.

It would take 40 years alone to earn back the money lost by giving away the property.

Grandinetti expressed concern that the council majority's position could jeopardize the project and send the wrong message to the greater development community about what it's like to do business in the city.

"When was the last time a developer of [Hamister's] stature was interested in Niagara Falls?" she asked. 

Some think otherwise. Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said, “Because the selection process was secretive, to this day we don’t know who the other developers were that were turned down. We may have turned away reputable business people who were fully financed and ready to build with little or no help from the government. What message is that sending about Niagara Falls as a place to do business? It creates a deadly atmosphere where serious developers and investors stay away because of secrecy and closed door meetings.



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

JUL 09, 2013