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Lawmakers Willing to Talk About Hamister Project

By Tony Farina

It looks like the proposed Hamister hotel project, backed by the Dyster administration and USA Niagara Development Corp., may be able to make it through the Niagara Falls City Council if the mayor and USAN are willing to meet with the council majority and work through their concerns.

“This proposal is doable and I think we can get it done,” Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian told the Niagara Falls Reporter. But while Choolokian sounded a positive note about the project that the council majority tabled at its July 8 meeting, he reiterated that the three-member council majority does have concerns and questions about the resolution as presented.

“We have legitimate questions and concerns,” said Choolokian, “but we believe that working with the mayor and USA Niagara, we can make the necessary adjustments to the resolution and move this project forward and protect the taxpayers at the same time.”

Council member Sam Fruscione, who along with Choolokian and council member Bob Anderson made up the three-person majority, met with Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson last week to go over in detail the concerns of lawmakers, which include the oversight power of the council potentially being diminished, the price of the price of the parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. ($100,000), wording that allows affiliates to enter the agreement and what lawmakers believe is a clause that hurts the city financially if the land reverts back to the city.

“I shared our main concerns with the corporation counsel,” said Fruscione, “and hopefully the administration will work with us to arrive at a beneficial package for taxpayers.”

Mayor Dyster could not be reached for comment.

Fruscione and the council majority believe language in the land sale authorization and project resolution needs work before it can be approved, citing specifically stronger guarantees about what kind of hotel is going to be built, how many rooms, more detail about the planned retail space and apartments and an analysis as to the effect of the New York tax-free zone on the project, including bed tax. They also discussed some kind of local hiring clause, full transparency on tax breaks including PILOTS, and a guarantee that should the land be put to use at any time as a parking lot, the revenue would go to the city.

John Destino, a lawyer and former candidate for mayor, said he shares some of the concerns of the council majority, saying the resolution as written gives complete control to the administration to negotiate the final deal.

“My question is: why isn’t this project a little more concrete at this stage of the game?” said Destino in an email. “Hamister was selected over a year and a half ago. Why isn’t the council being asked to approve a more definite plan? The only thing for certain is the purchase price will be no less than $100,000 and that there is a possibility of a reverter if the ‘project’ isn’t completed.”

Destino, citing the failed Rainbow Mall project, said he would like to see the city’s future interest in the site protected by making sure that it will remain in use as a hotel and retail operation or else the city could take it back.

Andy Touma, who is making his first run for public office in this year’s council elections, says he believes even if the project winds up tax free (for Hamister), he favors going forward because “the city needs to revitalize.”

Touma believes “you do what you have to do to open up your door. If you have to give the land away for $100,000, you do that to get this place developed. We are underdeveloped, there’s no work, there’s no jobs. We have mass exodus. The people feel change is never going to happen here. We have to think out of the box and go after change.”

While Touma says he would like the contract to be written to protect the city, overall he trusts the mayor and the [city] lawyers to do that.

Fruscione emphasized to the Reporter that he, too, favors growing the city and downtown, but believes lawmakers must also move ahead in a way that respects and protects the taxpayers.

Anderson believes the differences between the council and the administration are not insurmountable calling the two sides “inches apart, not yards. If these differences are solved, we can all take a step back and watch the project come to life as a construction site.”

It would seem with their latest comments that city lawmakers want to try and find a way to find a meeting of the minds on the hotel project and come up with an agreement that they believe will get the project moving and also protect the city’s future interests in the prime downtown parcel.

The council is in recess until next month so there is plenty of time for discussion between the parties to see if a deal can be reached that would allow the project to move forward. Stay tuned!



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

AUG 06, 2013