Hamister’s Stalled Jamestown Hotel May Also Benefit From Cuomo Bailout

 by Mike Hudson

Niagara Falls isn’t the only municipality in Western New York so desperate to portray itself as economically viable that government officials are willing to throw money at a snake oil salesman like Mark Hamister in a forlorn effort to get him to develop something.

Down in Jamestown, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency approved loan and tax incentives for Hamister in late March, hoping against hope that he will renovate a former Ramada Inn located in downtown Jamestown and reopen it as DoubleTree by Hilton, something Hamister originally promised to do in 2013.

Hamister scored a $900,000 loan provided to Hamister Group spans over 20 years at an interest rate of just 4 percent. He also got a sales tax exemption is valued at around $432,000, a payment in lieu of taxes deal over 15 years valued at $1,940,000, and a mortgage recording tax abatement valued at $106,500.

Now, Chautauqua County taxpayers have a $3,378,500 interest in a project Hamister’s own analysts say will cost only $14.2 million to complete. That’s right, nearly a quarter of the entire cost of renovation will be borne by the taxpayer.

Hamister purchased the hotel in 2013 and, the next year, announced that he signed a franchise agreement with Hilton Doubletree for the re-development. At the time, he said the renovated hotel would open in June, 2015, but nothing actually happened aside from Hamister or his representatives appearing at public meetings and begging for money.

Jamestown Director of Development Vince DeJoy said the city is currently reviewing an application to provide Hamister with still another loan from the Jamestown Local Development Corporation.

Sound familiar?

In Niagara Falls, Hamister got city, county and state officials to cough up an incentive package valued at around $9.5 million in order to build a hotel he claims will cost more than $35 million.

That’s more than 27 percent of the total cost and, as in Jamestown, he’s asked for more money here as well.

Between the two cities, Hamister has already been given $12,878,500 in low interest loans, real estate, tax breaks and other incentives without so much as replacing a room lamp at the Jamestown property or turning over a shovelful of earth in Niagara Falls.

In April of this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $10 million “downtown revitalization initiative” for Jamestown that includes an undisclosed amount to provide “gap funding” for the Hamister project there.

And just two weeks ago, Cuomo announced that the state would bail out the dead in the water Hamister hotel project in Niagara Falls.

Hamister has been a major supporter of, and contributor to, Cuomo’s political campaigns. What a remarkable coincidence.

If you think opening a hotel, a restaurant or a lemonade stand is a sure fire moneymaker, you should do it, and not expect the beleaguered taxpayers of Western New York to provide the finance.

There are places called banks, which traditionally loan money to individuals and businesses that come in armed with a sound business plan.

In the case of the Hamister hotel project in Niagara Falls and its cousin in Jamestown, it has become apparent that Hamister had no plan at all. Three years of complete inactivity in Jamestown and four years here proves it, as does the fact that Hamister was unable to come up with a private funding source for either project despite being a very wealthy man.

In 2012 alone, Mark Hamister made $85,500 in political contributions. Hamister in the past has personally contributed $12,000 to Cuomo. He has also given money to Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, all of who have staunchly supported his agonizing inactivity.

You get what you pay for, they say.

Unless you happen to be a Western New York taxpayer. In that case, Mark Hamister gets it.

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