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MAR 10 - MAR 17, 2015

Hamister to Build Lower Quality, Lower Density Than RFP Sought

By Frank Parlato

March 10, 2015

Mark Hamister started out to build a mixed use building, with apartments and hotel rooms. He later dropped the apartments.

When Empire State Development, and its subsidiary USA Niagara, decided to find a developer for the keystone, last undeveloped acre of land - 300 feet from the entrance of the Niagara Falls State Park - at 310 Rainbow Blvd - they put out a Request for Proposals (RFP), in conjunction with the City of Niagara Falls, which owned the downtown lot, in October 2011.

The RFP all but predetermined what the proposals would look like.
The RFP stated that its authors - the state - wanted to see a "high density" building, with an "upper upscale hotel," and apartments for the downtown workforce, renting for $700- $850 per month, and "particularly active ground level uses," such as restaurants and stores, facing Old Falls St."

As for high density, the RFP said the property could be built 10 stories or higher and have as much as 307,000 square feet - as allowed by zoning and building codes on the downtown parcel.

The state was prepared to bridge "funding gaps" with taxpayer subsidies to accomplish development.

The Hamister Group's proposal was accepted over six others.

Comparing what was originally sought in the RFP and what Hamister is now proposing, it is clear the State, the City, and the Hamister Group missed the mark on achieving much of what the RFP called for.

The RFP defined the kind of hotel that downtown Niagara Falls needed - an "upper-upscale hotel", which they defined as, "The second-highest chain scale (below 'luxury') and includes many of the namesake brands of the largest hotel companies in the world and represent the highest-quality properties available in most major metropolitan areas. Examples include Hilton®, Hyatt Regency®, Marriott®, Sheraton®, and Westin®."

However, after Hamister was named the preferred developer, and over the two and one half years it took to get the plans ready and contracts signed, Hamister downgraded his plans several times.

About seventeen months into the project, it became apparent USA Niagara and Empire State Development - possibly at Hamister's request - downgraded the  type of hotel named in the RFP - "upper-upscale" down to "upscale," which by standard industry definitions are "select service," three star business hotels - such as Hyatt Place (or Courtyard, Doubletree, Element, Hilton Garden Inn, Novotel, NYLO, Radisson, Springhill Suites etc.)

Hamister is proposing to build a Hyatt Place - a three star business hotel.

As for the "high density" the RFP placed as a priority, Hamister's Hyatt hotel is to be 128 rooms - which even for a Hyatt Place - is on the smaller side.

There will be no market rate apartments and as for "particularly active ground level uses facing Old Falls St," only $8,000 square feet of retail space is planned on the first floor - the equivalent of three to four average to small retail stores.

At a total square footage of 106,688, the project is a third of the density the site was said to be able to achieve by building taller.

At its planned six stories, the Hamister Hyatt Place will miss out on the views a taller hotel would be able to offer.

At the location, some 300 feet from the boundaries of the Niagara Falls State Park, and about 1000 feet from Prospect Point and the American Falls, at six stories, the top floors will have views above the tops of trees at the park, and a view of the Canadian skyline, but it will miss the potential, more marvelous views of the Niagara River rapids, the brink of the American Falls and the gorge below the skyline - which can be seen if the building were several stories taller.

Compared to what it could have been, the Hamister project promises to deliver a rather minor hotel on a lot that certainly deserves better.

310 Rainbow Blvd- the proposed site of the Hamister Hotel.






Our Report on the Proposed Hamister Hotel Through a Series of Connected but Separate Stories
Hamister Seeks Tax Discounts, Grants, Discounted Real Estate -- Totaling $9.4 Million
Job Promises, Job Delivery - Vast Errors By Expert State Officials
Hamister to Build Lower Quality, Lower Density Than RFP Sought
Price Doesn't Sound Right
How Was Hamister Selected?
Financing in Question?
Hamister Hotel History - A Shrinking Deal With Escalating Handouts
A Key Property, if Built as a Hyatt Place, Will Be Underdeveloped
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Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
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