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Buffalo Insider Hamister Knows How to Spend Your Money Better Than You Do

By Mike Hudson

The new Hamister Hotel, the Hamister Group will tell you, can only be built with corporate welfare. In other words, the working people of this city and state will have to pay for his hotel. In return, some of them will get to work there as janitors and housekeepers.

Hard to argue that the city needs more hotel rooms when this architectural masterpiece, the Hotel Niagara, sits vacant.

The Hamister Group owns 10 other hotels in different states, although they never built one before..

Buffalo businessman Mark Hamister, who is now Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster’s very close friend, is a guy who never saw a taxpayer dollar he didn’t covet.

Hamister’s background is largely in the nursing home industry — where virtually every aspect of the business is, to a greater or lesser degree, subsidized by the government.

Without the gravy train provided by Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and the various state departments of social services, Hamister would likely be hawking hot dogs or copies of the Buffalo News on Delaware Avenue downtown.

One can only imagine the cold sweat he broke into, back in January of 1997 when he received a letter from the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Social Services.

“This is to inform you that, based on recent investigations made by the Licensing Staff of the Division of Licensing Programs, Department of Social Services, it has been determined that you are in violation of the Virginia standards and regulations for operation of an adult care residence,” the letter began.

Hamister was just a young pup when the trouble in Virginia occurred, but he didn’t let it deter him. His quest for corporate welfare remained insatiable.

In 2002, he announced plans to buy the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, a $65 million deal that hinged on more than $40 million in taxpayer funding.

Despite receiving NHL approval that November, the deal fell through when the local and state governments balked at the amount of public assistance he was begging for.

The public money was to be used for both capital improvements in and around HSBC Arena, the Sabres’ home, and to refinance a $22.9 million loan taken out when the facility was built in the mid-1990s.

While he understood the economic constraints facing the state government, which was then predicting a $12 billion budget gap, Hamister told fawning local reporters, awed by the prospect of speaking to a man who paid someone else to shine his shoes, that he was growing weary over the slow pace of the government cutting him a check.

“The lack of government assistance has greatly reduced the attractiveness of this investment,” a written statement issued at the time said.

Hamister’s partner in the failed deal, Todd Berman of Amherst, quit as president of Chartwell Investments in 2003 after his partners discovered he had taken more than $1 million in improper cash advances from the company.

Berman resigned after admitting he took the advances for his personal use in violation of the partnership agreement. The money was reimbursed following the revelations.

Hamister then became involved with the ownership and management of the aptly named Buffalo Destroyers arena football team, which lost a reported $5 million during the five years he ran the club here. He was unsuccessful at drawing fans, unable to attract even the scantest local media attention — NBC blacked out all of the Destroyers games during the 2003 season — and generally made a mess of things.

At the same time, he was also in the running to buy the Sabres, but after the corporate welfare deal fell through, the team was purchased by Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano. Shortly afterward, Hamister announced in a petulant tone that he was moving the Destroyers franchise to Columbus, Ohio, for the 2004 season.

He’d barely touched down in Columbus when he announced that he was selling his interest in the Destroyers to a Columbus-based group of sports professionals. And as if by magic, the team’s fortunes began to change. They played their first home game against the Carolina Cobras in front of a team record of 17,171 fans.

The attendance levels from then on were some of the highest in the Arena Football League, and they were enthusiastically covered in the local Columbus media. It seemed as though, with Hamister gone, a heavy weight had been lifted. Home games were televised, and all the games were broadcast live on local radio.

The Destroyers were met with tremendous fan support, finishing their first season without the Hamister curse second in the Arena Football League attendance records, second only behind Philadelphia — a market more than 10 times bigger than Columbus. The Destroyers welcomed 130,228 fans to Nationwide Arena for eight home games that season — with an average of 16,286 fans in attendance per game.

Columbus recorded four sellouts that season, including sellouts in the first three home games.

Returning to Buffalo, Hamister then became involved in passing himself off as some sort of Conrad Hilton, despite the fact that hotels are to nursing homes as condominiums are to jail.

This time, he partnered with Buffalo’s Rocco Termini on a deal that began to take shape in 2008. Once again, Hamister would revive Buffalo’s sagging economy. And once again, he would do it using tax money forcibly taken from local residents.

The cost of the project had been announced as $35 million, and was to be entirely funded by the public teat, Termini explained in a Buffalo Spree interview.

“The (tax) credits will provide $35 million dollars’ worth of equity for this project, which helps close the financing gap,” Termini said.

The promised project was your usual serving of pie in the sky.

“It will be a 117-room Hilton Hotel, a food court, offices, health club, independent senior housing and apartments,” he continued. “My partner, Mark Hamister, will operate the hotel and the independent living, and move his corporate office from Amherst to downtown. This restoration — along with AM&A’s warehouse and the Lafayette — will give us the critical mass we need to develop downtown.”

Termini’s hot air would have filled a big balloon. Last September, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo balked at giving Hamister the money he begged for, Termini said they were pulling the plug on the project.

There are old working guys in Buffalo who can’t afford to go fishing on a Saturday morning or enjoy lunch in a reasonably-priced restaurant some weekday afternoon because politically-connected bums like Mark Hamister have driven up taxes with their incessant demands for more and more taxpayer dollars.

Now Hamister wants to come to Niagara Falls and grab prime property for nearly nothing. Dyster wants to give the bum a handout, while the City Council seems to be saying we can’t afford it.

In his life and career, Hamister hasn’t made a dollar that wasn’t taken from someone else in the form of taxes. If that’s your idea of a bold entrepreneur, a man of vision, you’re a moron who can side with the rest of your ilk in backing the mayor.



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

JUL 09, 2013