No Sign Yet of Major Groundbreaking Ceremony for Hamister Hotel

 

It all seems so long ago that the state and the administration of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster announced with great fanfare that the Hamister Group based in Buffalo had been selected for a $25.3 million downtown development project at 310 Rainbow Blvd. that would include an upscale hotel, apartment and retail complex just minutes from the world wonder.

“I think this is just the beginning for downtown Niagara Falls,” said Dyster in February of 2012 shortly after Hamister was awarded the rights to develop the prime parcel over six other bidders in a process that was held mostly behind closed doors.  Now, here we are more than four years later and despite the recent announcement that Hamister had finally secured the financing to build a scaled-down Hyatt Place hotel after years of delay, there is not much activity at the site and no announcement has been made of a formal groundbreaking.

Just for the record, Mark Hamister said back in 2013– after a hesitant city council was politically strong-armed into approving the project–that he expected a formal groundbreaking in the second half of 2014.  He apparently made that lame forecast even though he didn’t have the financing to do anything as we now know because according to the governor the financing was finally cobbled together just a few weeks ago, and according to the calendar it is now 2016.  And of course the grand plan for the site has been scaled back although the cost has gone up to more than $35 million with nearly a quarter of that number on the backs of taxpayers in the form of a state grant and tax breaks.

Hamister said earlier this month after it was finally announced the financing was in place that there would be a formal groundbreaking ceremony later in the month, but there’s no sign that anything is planned.

“There was some talk [of a groundbreaking], but it seems to have slowed down,” said Council President Andrew Touma on Wednesday.  “But my hope is they get started and keep going and get it built.”  It would appear that having a few workers on site may have kept in place the Hamister Group’s building permit which was due to expire this week, but there’s certainly no sign that anything too serious is underway at this point.

It is probably fair comment to say the air has been let out of the Hamister balloon because of all the delays and false starts and most people probably have lost interest in what was supposed to be the project that kick-starts a downtown development revival.  More than three years after the council approval and more than four years after the announcement that Hamister had won the bid, there is nothing at 310 Rainbow Blvd., and my guess is that most people feel like Touma and simply hope something gets done, even if it is not the do-or-die project that will save downtown as promised and in its new version will only create a handful of jobs.

Of course the mayor and state officials could still find the courage to get out there and have a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but maybe they are still not sure Hamister is really going to build anything, and so they are holding back, hoping, like Touma, that something does get built at some point in the future and there’s no reason to get out there and answer questions about whey the project has taken so long after all that incredible hype, especially since no serious work seems to be taking place.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens at 310 Rainbow Blvd. like everyone else since the key players are sticking to the script of keeping the public in the dark about how their tax dollars are being spent.

We still don’t know how Hamister closed his funding gap and whether the state has coughed up even more money to avoid further embarrassing delays.  And the truth is we may never know.  And perhaps the biggest question of all is how did the state award this project to the politically-connected Hamister in the first place without knowing if he had the financing in place to do the job?  I guess you just have to know how to play the game, and Hamister apparently did.  And here we are four years later and the taxpayers are out on a limb on a project that can’t seem to get off the ground.

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