Dynamic Dicienzo Sharp Contrast To Dull, Plodding Hamister Here. Choice Seems Obvious

Mike Hudson

It is a tale of two developers.

One is a nursing home operator who at the time he was awarded the contract to build a Niagara Falls hotel had never developed a hotel in his life. His financial situation is sketchy and says that the cost of building a hotel in downtown Niagara Falls will approach $36 million.

The other heads up a company that has successfully developed a dozen hotels in the U.S. and Canada and invested more than $850 million of its own money over the past two decades. He says he can build the identical hotel the first developer has proposed for half the cost — $18 million.

Who would you choose to build your hotel?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Paul Dyster chose the first guy – Mark Hamister. They have thus far rebuffed the second developer, Michael DiCienzo, even though Hamister is nearly four years behind schedule on the project and still lacks the financing to begin construction

Niagara Falls Reporter readers know plenty about Hamister. We had him pegged early on and have doggedly pursued the missed deadlines, financial fumbles, and shapeshifting plans and cost estimates that have characterized his botched proposal.

But who is Michael DiCienzo?

All told, DiCienzo owns eight hotels in Canada — seven in Niagara Falls — including various attractions like the Rainforest Cafe, Planet Hollywood and the building housing Casino Niagara. He estimates his company has spent $800 million on Canadian development.

In Niagara Falls, Ont., his company owns and operates one of Canada’s largest entertainment resorts, a 20 acre complex that features four first class hotels – including the Crowne Plaza Fallsview and the Sheraton at the Falls, the Hard Rock Café, Perkins Pancake House, Planet Hollywood,  a Rainforest Café, the Fallsview Indoor Water Park, Hershey’s of Niagara Falls and more.HamHotel

On this side of the river, his company subsidiary, NFNY Hotel Management, owns the Days Inn at the Falls and the Sheraton at the Falls. Thus far, DiCienzo has plunked down $50 million on hotels and attractions here.

“That could easily double,” he said.   

Last fall, the Niagara Falls City Council agreed to sell a landlocked half-acre city owned parcel to Sheraton at the Falls owner NFNY Hotel Management for $190,000. DiCienzo confirmed that the intentions are to add a water park to the hotel that has in recent years developed a T.G.I. Fridays, Rainforest Cafe, a candy store, and a Starbucks Cafe.  The parcel has been used as short-term parking by the hotel for several years with few redevelopment opportunities available due to its size and location.

DiCienzo opened a 90,000 square foot water park in 2006 attached to its Sheraton on the Falls hotel in Ontario which has proven successful over the last 10 years of operation. While the proposed water park here would be smaller, at 25,000 square feet, it will be a welcomed addition to downtown Niagara Falls, an additional attraction to extend visitor’s stay and spending.

The Rainforest Café, which opened last year, was his most recent upgrade to the Sheraton property.

The 14,000-square-foot downtown location can seat 238 in the dining room and another 60 on the patio.

The restaurant cost $3.5 million to build, with $150,000 of that coming through the city’s NFC Development Corp.

Developer Michael DiCienzo says he can build the Hyatt Place for $18 million. How come Mark Hamister says it will cost $36 million for the identical hotel? Could it be that for nine dollars Hamister claims to spend he gets $1 dollar of state taxpayers’ money?

Developer Michael DiCienzo says he can build the Hyatt Place for $18 million. How come Mark Hamister says it will cost $36 million for the identical hotel? Could it be that for nine dollars Hamister claims to spend he gets $1 dollar of state taxpayers’ money?

DiCienzo said the Rainforest Café is a step toward returning the city to the family destination it once was.

“There needs to be more family entertainment. (The Seneca Casino) is great, but there needs to be more,” he said.

While DiCienzo and his companies have been described in the media as “dynamic,” Hamister is involved in management and has a style that can best be called plodding.

Hamister’s primary business is running assisted living facilities and apartment buildings for senior citizens. The nursing home and senior apartment business might not be as glamorous as the hotel and restaurant business, but they seem more suited to Hamister’s abilities.

In 2003, he pulled out of a bid to buy the Buffalo Sabres hockey franchise after state and local government refused to subsidize the purchase to the extent he demanded. Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano stepped in and bought the team with his own money.

Earlier, in 1998, Hamister founded the Buffalo Destroyers arena football franchise, which lost $5 million in five years before he sold the team and moved it to Columbus, Ohio.

Aside from the fact that DiCienzo is a highly successful hotelier and Hamister runs a string of old folks’ homes, and that DiCienzo said it would cost $18 million to build the hotel Hamister says will cost $36 million, there is one other difference between the two that may help explain how Hamister snagged the coveted title of “preferred developer” here.

He has donated more than $20,000 to Cuomo over the years, given thousands to Rep. Brian Higgins and even backed Dyster financially.

On top of that he had a hand in raising more than $800,000 that was donated to a PAC that bought ads supporting Gov. Cuomo.

Asked how much he had given to Cuomo, DiCienzo shrugged his shoulders.

“Not a dime,” he said.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
.wpzoom (color:black;}