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Council Gets No Response From Mayor On Questions About Hamister Deal

"It’s puzzling, first there was no information coming out, then a big push by Mayor Dyster to get the deal approved as soon as possible and now silence,” said Sam Fruscione regarding the current lack of information coming from Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster concerning the mayor’s hoped for ko-to Fruscione, the shaky Hamister hotel proposal.

The City Council waited from February of 2012 until July 3, 2013- 17 months- to receive details of the Hamister development package in writing.

Contrary to what a totally uninformed group of media has reported, they were not kept informed of what the crazed deal was going to be.

The council tabled the proposal at the July 8 meeting, pending further study, and lawmakers have yet to receive any indication of where Dyster, Hamister and USA Niagara are really at on the deal.

“I met with corporation counsel Craig Johnson two weeks ago and very carefully, very respectfully noted the concerns of the council majority," said Fruscione. "There was absolutely no confusion as to where we stood. When the meeting was over, the corporation counsel agreed that the council had legitimate questions that needed addressing.”

At that meeting Fruscione, a two-term councilmember seeking re-election, pointed to four principal areas of the Hamister deal that require clarification and adjustment: 1- purchase price of the land; 2-powers of the council regarding agreement amendments; 3-the “reverter clause” and, 4- the concept and wording regarding “affiliates.”

“At no time has the council ever said it was refusing to talk and now that we’ve noted the need to talk, some in the media are dishonestly portraying this as a change of position on our part,” said City Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian. “Let’s be clear. We received the proposal more than a year late, received it at the last minute, we have questions to ask and clauses to adjust and both sides need to talk if this has any chance of getting done. But right now it looks like the only side at the table is the council majority.”

Some in the media have gone on record as supporting Dyster’s Hamister deal although many of the project details remain unclear and even conflicted.

The media has stopped functioning as journalists reporting the news but are now acting as advocates for the one-sided Hamister deal.

Two weeks ago, the council posted the 10-page Dyster proposal on the city website in the interest of transparency. Media members covering the story have admitted to the council members that they have not even read the agreement and really don’t know what it contains or grasp how it could impact the city in the long run.

Once posted it changed the tenor of the argument as the general public was finally allowed to see the many points where Dyster had put the city at a disadvantage. One of the looming disadvantages of the agreement is the controversial reverter clause. That clause could cost the city taxpayers millions of dollars should the land have to be taken back by the city if the project fails.

In a city that has seen more than its share of downtown development failures, such a project collapse and follow-up city debt is a real possibility.

“We issued a press release last week in the interest of transparency and of keeping this potential development package moving forward,” said Councilman Bob Anderson. “Right now we’re waiting for a response and frankly I don’t know why it is taking this long. To play catch, the other person has to toss the ball back to you.”

City Hall observers are wondering if the mayor never intended to play catch but instead has chosen to play politics with the development package in the hopes of costing Sam Fruscione the council primary election.

Fruscione, a two-term council member and a four-term council chairman, has consistently refused to be a “go along to get along” politician.

Often questioning the mayor’s agenda and spendthrift ways, Fruscione has become Dyster’s number one political target in this primary.

Political observers clearly recall Robert Gioa appearing at a February council meeting at which time he took to the podium and pressured the council to accept his Oishei Foundation offer of $15,000 for the NACC. When the council respectfully declined to participate in his offer of a matching grant, Gioa stepped away from the podium but not before ominously saying to Fruscione, “every action has consequences.”

To veteran observers of the Niagara Falls and Buffalo political scene, the inferred threat of Buffalo-based Gioa to drive Fruscione from his council seat was very real.

Will Dyster and USA Niagara’s Chris Schoepflin delay all meaningful information and negotiation on the deal until a day or two before the September 3 council meeting?

With Labor Day being September 2 and the council meeting taking place the next day, Dyster and Schoepflin would be poised to spring their latest proposal package on the council majority and load the September 3 council chambers with loud, abusive Hamister supporters as they did on July 24.

With the council primary coming September 10 it looks like this is where Dyster is heading. If Hamister says he is going to withdraw his proposed hotel project a week before the primary, the anti-Fruscione campaign can begin in earnest with the council getting the blame for killing the deal. Of course, if Fruscione loses the primary, a new majority may form after the November elections and Hamister could come revive his deal.

It fits his passive aggressive approach to politics.

For a guy who claims to have ‘stared down the Soviets,’ he seems to be terrified of honestly working with the council for the good of the community.

Additional areas in the agreement that have to be discussed are: determining exactly the number of rooms, apartments and retail space; clarification of impact from the NYS tax-free zone legislation; all parking revenue - if it should ever be used as a parking lot - must go to the city; hiring should be local; number of jobs claim must be credible; any PILOT must be transparent; and, the eventual hotel star rating of the property.

“I want to emphasize that the council has tried to discuss this proposal openly from day one. The information has been slow in coming. This council is not a rubber stamp, we’re the legislative branch of government and before this goes further, we need transparency and we need questions answered,” said Chairman Glenn Choolokian.

In light of all of this, an over-arching question has been raised: did the Dyster administration and USA Niagara ever intend for the council to play a role in the process?

From the get-go it has been a closed-door process with zero transparency. To many observers it looks like a set-up from the beginning...a set-up to get the land into the hands of the Hamister Group at all costs, with much of those costs to be footed by city, state and county taxpayers.



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

AUG 13, 2013