On October 11, 2011, Empire State Development, USA Niagara, and the administration of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster issued an RFP seeking proposals for the development of 310 Rainbow Blvd.
Proposals had to be completed by Dec. 2, giving less than a two-month window for developers to craft proposals - unless they had advance knowledge of the upcoming RFP.
USA Niagara got seven proposals in response.
Christopher Schoepflin and Paul Tronolone from USA Niagara, Steve Gawlik from Empire State Development, and from Niagara Falls - Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson and Senior Planner Tom DeSantis - were the men who ranked the proposals and reported their findings to their respective bosses - Sam Hoyt, Paul Dyster - and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Of the seven respondents, two were deemed unacceptable. The five remaining proposal were awarded by this panel numerical scores based on both a subjective interview process and the written proposal as judged by the benchmark of that developer who would "best achieve the objectives as stated in the RFP."
Uniland Development earned 470 points; DHD of Rochester, 448; Eastern Hospitality, 410; LMK from Niagara Falls, 233; and the Hamister Group, 529.
Considering that the Hamister Group achieved - with their design plans for a Hyatt Place - a plan that is hardly recognizable as being remotely close to "the objectives as stated in the RFP", some have wondered if it was not his proposal, but Mark Hamister, himself, that secured the highest ranking.
Hamister is extremely well connected.
Consider: First and foremost, officials from Empire State Development and USA Niagara, a subsidiary of Empire State Development, comprised most of the team that ranked Hamister and his proposal.
Although not a secret, but it was not transparently disclosed at the time of Hamister's selection in Dec. 2011, Mark Hamister served on the Board of Directors of Empire State Development from 2005 to 2009. He was the only Western New York representative on Empire State Development's seven-member board.
Hamister is listed by www.ranker.com as among the top 16 "most notable" Empire State Development Employees of all time.
Two years after Hamister served as a board member of the state development agency (he was appointed by Gov. George Pataki) that same agency would select him and offer him millions in subsidies.
Perhaps it was a coincidence. His past prestigious position had little or nothing to do with his selection.
But consider also that, while Hamister was on the board of directors at Empire State Development, since it is the parent agency of USA Niagara, Hamister was one of the bosses of USA Niagara President Chris Schoepflin, who sat on the panel that selected Hamister.
In fact, in 2005, when Schoepflin, then a senior project manager, was promoted to president of USA Niagara, a $105,908 per year job, he personally thanked "the Empire State Development chairman and the Board of Directors in my selection".
As if past connections were not enough, Mark Hamister's business partner, Paul F. Ciminelli, succeeded Hamister on the Board of Directors for Empire State Development. Hamister's partner, Ciminelli, sat on the Board of Directors when the scoring was done by employees of Empire State Development and USA Niagara.
Technically, Hamister's partner, Ciminelli was the boss of three of the five men who ranked the proposals, Schoepflin, Tonolone and Gawlik.
Ciminelli and Hamister are partners in Mensch Capital Partners.
Ciminelli told the Buffalo News, 'Mark (Hamister) and his company bring tremendous credence to our hotel component and to the project overall; they bolster our existing experience on this type of development."
For people in the social circles and rungs of power - like Hamister - it is not unusual to know almost everyone and at one time or another had some association with nearly everyone - a man should not be recused for this.
But still, one has to marvel; For there is more.
Mark Hamister, a former Chairman of the Board, sits on the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
In a 2003 profile in the Buffalo News headlined "A Matter of Pull," Hamister is described as having a strong influence in the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, called Western New York's "most influential business organization."
Also, according to the Buffalo News, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership served as "'the gatherer' to transfer nearly $1 million in contributions from various business interests in Western New York to the Committee to Save New York... a group that has helped (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo - through millions of dollars in ad campaigns - push(ing) everything from a property tax cap to spending cuts opposed by labor unions but backed by business interests."
Gov. Cuomo is the boss of bosses - of all the executives at Empire State Development and USA Niagara and appointments are directly under his control, including the appointment of Regional President of Empire State Development, Sam Hoyt, to his $139,000 per year job.
By the way Hamister made at least one campaign contribution to Hoyt, in 2002, when Hoyt was an assemblyman.
Hamister made many more to Hoyt's boss, Gov. Cuomo.
According to http://www.elections.state.ny.us., Hamister made at least $10,000 in donations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo during Cuomo's first campaign for governor - which was prior to Hamister being selected as the preferred developer for 310 Rainbow Blvd.
Just to give an idea of Hamister's pull, in July, 2013, when the hotel deal was in doubt, as the Niagara Falls council majority started questioning its wisdom, two federal elected officials, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls and Buffalo, endorsed the Hamister project.
Schumer told the Niagara Gazette that the Hamister project is "exactly the type of work that Niagara Falls needs." He told WGRZ that to not make the Hamister deal "makes no sense.... I will be urging all parties to allow this to happen."
Higgins told the media Hamister's project is a "serious proposal" from a "serious developer... It's an exciting project" and "absolutely essential to the revitalization of downtown."
It may be inconsequential, but, in the nature of a glimpse of Hamister and his allies, what was not reported in those endorsements is that Hamister donated $4,400 to Higgins and at least $2,000 to Schumer not very long before they endorsed his project.
While no one is suggesting that these sums are significant - it does suggest Hamister can pick up the phone and reach important people, get their attention, prompt action. Perhaps that was the reason, after all, that somehow, the men who selected him did so for those reasons.
Hamister- his hotel proposal aside - is a considerable man.