By Mike Hudson;
If Michael DiCienzo was a woman, or a person of color, he’d have a heck of a discrimination case on his hands. He’s a white man though and the fact that his repeated attempts to bolster the moribund Niagara Falls economy with personal investments of tens of millions of dollars have been dismissed by Mayor Paul Dyster and other officials here without explanation have barely made the news.
Last week, he appeared before the city Council with a $70 million proposal to build an indoor waterpark and radically expand the Sheraton at the Falls hotel owned by his family on Third Street, across from the Seneca Niagara Casino.
The DiCienzo family owns the Marriott Fallsview and Sheraton Fallsview, the Crowne Plaza and Sheraton on the Falls, as well as the Skyline Inn and Hampton Inn, the Hard Rock Café, Perkins Pancake House, Planet Hollywood, a Rainforest Café, the Fallsview Indoor Water Park, Hershey’s of Niagara Falls and more in Niagara Falls, Ontario, as well as the Sheraton at the Falls, the Days Inn at the Falls and the Rainforest Cafe on this side of the river.
The private, family owned company has invested more than $850 million of its own money in the hospitality industry on both sides of the river, and are widely regarded as the most successful tourism entrepreneurs in the region.
But for some inexplicable reason, none of that impresses Mayor Dyster.
Last year, when nursing home operator Mark Hamister was nearly four years behind in his attempt to build what he said was a $36 million Hyatt hotel on a piece of downtown real estate that had essentially been gifted to him by the city, DiCienzo offered to build the exact same hotel for $18 million, half the price.
Dyster rejected the proposal out of hand.
Two years ago, when Uniland Development and Delaware North were gifted with what they called the “Wonder Falls” development at the Rainbow Centre Mall, DiCienzo was also rejected.
He offered to do the project using $27 million in public money. The Uniland / Delaware North proposal called for $75 million in subsidies.
Since then, Uniland and Delaware North became involved in a dispute that led both companies to sue each other and little was heard of the “Wonder Falls” project until last week, when Dyster used it as an excuse for shooting down DiCienzo’s hotel expansion and indoor water park proposal.
Dyster said he doubted Empire State Development would make that deal because the proposed water park would be located basically next door to the nearly forgotten about Wonder Falls development.
“I can understand why (Empire State Development) would not want to subsidize a water park project by the loser of the RFP next door to a water park project by the winner of the RFP,” Dyster said.
The mayor is miffed to the max over DiCienzo’s lawsuit against the city, filed in February 2016, alleging misuse of the bed tax money the city collects from hotels and motels for the benefit of the former Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., now called Destination Niagara USA.
The suit is due for a hearing in State Supreme Court next month,
For his part, DiCienzo asserted that the Sheraton project would provide a much needed shot in the arm to sagging city economy.
“This new development project would be able to support the marketplace specifically during the time the market needs the most help, between the months of September and May,” he said in a news release. “This luxury hotel combined with the waterpark will be the only one of its kind in the marketplace and will be an attraction in and of itself for all demographics visiting Niagara Falls, N.Y.”
The Council voted 3-2 to table to renewal of the city’s bed tax contract with the tourism promotion agency. The mayor said he thinks the vote on the bed tax contract and the DiCienzo request for that money were related, since DiCienzo has support on the Council.
Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, Dyster’s biggest cheerleader on the Council, said DiCienzo’s presentation was insulting.
“I think it’s an insult to the mayor and I think it’s an insult to the economic development department,” she said.
Dyster accused DiCienzo of wanting the bed tax money in order to subsidize the hotel and water park project.
DiCienzo said he looks forward to the opportunity to sit down and continue to negotiate the $70 million development, which he said would create 165 full-time jobs, add 108,000 additional room nights and generate about $6.5 million in annual tax revenue.
Dyster is apparently not interested in any of it, preferring instead to defend a make believe project that has shown no sign of becoming a reality since it was announced more than two years ago.