Following a blistering five-part series on Niagara Falls, WGRZ Channel 2 News Tuesday unleashed a blistering report on the moribund Hamister hotel deal here.
Back in 2013, Dyster called the hotel project “transformational,” predicting that it would be the “tipping point” that would once and forever serve to revitalize the city’s tourist district.
Hamister told city officials and the people of Niagara Falls that his hotel would be an upscale hotel that would combine upscale suites with permanent apartments, with a first floor dedicated to high end retail and other amenities.
Dyster gifted Hamister with a choice downtown property valued at $1.5 million for a token payment of $100,000. When the deal was announced in 2013, Dyster and Hamister confidently announced that ground would be broken the following spring.
Since that time, three hotels have gone up in Niagara Falls, none of them built by Hamister.
No one from the Hamister organization would return Channel 2’s calls. But Dyster took the bait. With the successful One Niagara Building serving as the backdrop, the mayor shifted nervously on his feet as reporter Kelly Dudzik asked him some very pointed questions.
“Why hasn’t ground been broken yet here?” Dudzik queried.
Dyster haltingly blamed a nuisance lawsuit filed by a leaseholder at the property that was settled last week for a measly $45,000.
Far more to the point is the fact that Hamister doesn’t seem to have the money to build the project he originally proposed. Last year, he announced that his hotel wouldn’t be a Hilton at all, but a budget level Hyatt. The upscale retail shops were erased from artists renderings, the luxury apartments were eliminated and the number of full time jobs Hamister predicted dropped from 200 to fewer than 20.
Hat in hand, he went begging to the county Industrial Development Agency for a tax break package on top of what he had already received from the city and state.
The spring of 2014 came and went, and then the spring of 2015.
Pointing to the hotels that have been built from the ground up since Hamister and Dyster told the people that the deal needed to be fast tracked in 2013, Dudzik asked a sensible question.
“Do you think it’s fair that Hamister gets all the tax breaks and help from the state when these other companies… have been able to get hotels open and this is still just a parking lot?”
“(A)t the time Hamister was trying to move forward with this project, it would have been the first mixed use development here in downtown Niagara Falls since urban renewal,” Dyster stammered.
Widely regarded as the biggest development disaster in the city’s history, urban renewal saw the entire historic tourist district torn down and replaced with large vacant plazas and some of the most grotesque examples of modernist architecture to be seen this side of the former Soviet Union.
The Hamister hotel deal, pushed through with the help of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who actually intervened in the 2013 city Council race here, was and remains indefensible.
Two years on, it is good to see that some are finally starting to notice.