Mayor Paul Dyster, clearly feeling the political heat generated by the release of a letter he received from developer Michael DiCienzo this week about wanting to take over the long-stalled Hamister Hotel project in Niagara Falls, took to the Ch. 7 airwaves Wednesday night—as election day looms—and told residents he has received word from Mark Hamister that ground breaking is just around the corner, within two to four weeks.
Dyster had no firm date on the supposed ground breaking and offered few details in the television interview, but he is clearly looking to save face—and possibly his job-- as the deadline has long passed for work to get started at 310 Rainbow Blvd. on a project that he and state development officials handed to Hamister nearly two years ago, promising a “transformational” hotel that has since been scaled back to a Hyatt Place with delay after delay despite a more than $8 million taxpayer commitment.
Dyster and state officials usually say nothing about what’s going on with the Hamister project, and getting information about the investment of taxpayer dollars to a politically connected Buffalo developer has been next to impossible. This is the same Mark Hamister who was going to buy the bankrupt Buffalo Sabres back in 2003 before backing out after he couldn’t get the state money to make the deal.
Hamister told Ch. 7 in a statement Wednesday supporting Dyster—who faces a strong election challenge on Tuesday from John Accardo-- that the Hamister Group expects to get a financial commitment letter from their bank and proceed with the project soon. The Hamister statement offered no firm date and no details on why he didn’t have the financing in place when he won the competition to develop the site in a secretive process more than two years ago.
The late flurry from Dyster and Hamister comes after Michael DiCienzo, a developer with a proven track record in the cataract city (Rainforest Café among others) said he wants to wants to take over the Hamister project and asked the mayor in a letter to revoke Hamister’s development rights for failing to meet the development agreement’s deadline to start work.
DiCienzo said his company NFNY Hotel Management, LLC, was passed over by the city and the state for developing the Rainbow Centre area and the Hamister site, and told Dyster in a letter he released this week that no work is being done at either site and he wants the opportunity to develop the parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. awarded to Hamister.
In his letter to Dyster, DiCienzo wrote “it is my understanding that construction on the [Hamister] site was to commence in accordance with an ‘Approved Project Schedule,’ which has not been met by the prospective developer. It is also my understanding that in the event that, as has here happened, the proposed developer does not meet the approved project schedule the proposed developer loses his right to develop the site.”
It appears DiCienzo is on the mark about the deadline being passed, but it also appears unlikely that the city and Hamister’s state development friends (USA Niagara and Empire State Development) would pull the plug on a project for which they campaigned so hard for, from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on down to Dyster during the frantic days leading up to the 2013 city elections when the council was politically strong-armed to give the prime land to Hamister for $100,000 and go along with the deal that saw Hamister selected pretty much behind closed doors.
On Wednesday, facing many questions about the much-delayed project and the DiCienzo request to dump Hamister to make way for a serious developer, a flustered Dyster was forced to try and convince the public that something was going to happen soon, even though he had no specifics. He had earlier suggested to the Niagara Gazette that the developer’s letter might have been politically motivated. Remember, this is the same guy who sent word to this newspaper two weeks ago through Council President Andrew Touma that there was no update available on the Hamister project.
The sad truth here is that Hamister’s hotel has ballooned to more than $37 million, far more than anyone can conceive for a Hyatt Place, a hotel that is far less than was promised. And Hamister has not been able to put together the financing for the inflated project because the numbers just didn’t add up, despite the big assist from taxpayers who have been kept in the dark all along.
Unfortunately, we won’t know until after the election whether Hamister really has a commitment from his bank, and snow could be falling long before work might get started, meaning more delays for the project that was going to save downtown. So much for all that urgency back in 2013 when the sky was going to fall unless the council approved the deal.