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Hamister "Signed" Contract Still Not Filed

By Frank Parlato

Mark Hamister
Carol Antonucci

Where's the Contract?

The Hamister hotel deal was reported to have been signed last week in the Niagara Gazette and the Buffalo News and was, according to the Gazette, to be made available to that newspaper by the end of last week.

The hotel deal, part of a state-run process led by Empire State Development and its subsidiary USA Niagara, will see the Hamister Group purchase a city-owned parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. and build a 114-room, five-story hotel, with retail and residential space, and get a $2.75 million state grant and a 10-year tax discount.

The project's estimated cost is $25 million.

It has been two months since the council approved the at times very controversial deal.

Laura Magee, deputy director of public affairs for Empire State Development's Buffalo office, told the Gazette that she could not supply the Gazette with a copy of the contract when it was requested by the newspaper more than week ago, but said the state would be able to provide the completed agreement by the end of the last week.

It did not arrive.

At Monday's Niagara Falls City Council meeting, when the council asked for an update on the deal, Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian asked to see the signed contract between Hamister and the city.

Mayor Paul Dyster said there was a signed contract.

Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian then asked, "Why isn't it filed with the city clerk?"

By law, if the city enters into a contract with anyone, the city clerk is to witness or attest that it is a true contract and file it in her office in order that the public can see it. This is called transparency.

The government cannot enter into secret deals.

When asked why a contract that is signed more than week ago was not on file, Dyster turned to Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson to explain.

Johnson said the contract is signed by all parties and attested to by the city clerk, but is pending certain "exhibits pertinent to the agreement."

In other words, the Hamister contract is not complete.

The contract should be ready to be delivered within 30 days, Johnson told the council.

Choolokian asked, "why did you sign a contract when it is not really finished?"

Dyster answered this question.

He said the "flag franchise is pending" and we are "trying to get a hotel franchise tied into it."

The Hamister Group has previously announced the new hotel will either be a Hilton, Marriott or Intercontinental brand.

This is puzzling.

Try to figure this out: The city clerk attested there is a contract, but it is not on file. So why didn't Dyster file the pending contract?

Why did he ask the city clerk to attest to a contract that is 30 days from completion?

Dyster says Hamister needs a signed contract with the city in order to get a hotel chain to consider offering Hamister a franchise.

Will Hamister send this signed, but unfinished "contract" to hotel flagships, a contract that nobody in the public has seen, as the final contract?

Will he send the hotel chain a contract that the city attested to but has not been given to the clerk to be filed, as required by law.

If the contract is an official contract with the city of Niagara Falls, but is not on file with the city, and there are pertinent exhibits still pending, then what is it?

Is it a final contract?

Now it will be 30 days before the contract is completed.

Andrea Czopp, the director of communications and government relations for Hamister, said the company needs evidence of site control and can begin applying for a flagship brand.

Mark E. Hamister, chairman of the Hamister Group, said in September he expected a groundbreaking for the project in the second half of 2014. But Czopp declined last week to confirm that schedule is still on track.

Meantime, transparency is very much missing.



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

Nov 26, 2013