So what’s up with the state acquisition of the historic Hotel Niagara, the legendary Niagara Falls hotel at 210 Rainbow Blvd. in Niagara Falls?
USA Niagara, one of the state’s development agencies under Empire State Development, which played a big role in the state-backed Hamister Hotel project, acquired the once-grand Hotel Niagara, built in 1924, for $4.4 million last March from Henry Stinson after his predictions of grand renovations never came to pass.
USA Niagara’s Christopher Schoepflin, who rarely says much that isn’t scripted, is now the Western New York regional director of Empire State Development at a salary of $120,000 per year, and USA Niagara issued a request for proposals last month with a deadline of next week (Oct. 14), seeking a developer for the Hotel Niagara who might be interested – helped by state tax credits – in bringing the once grand facility back to life. USA Niagara says the cost of restoration could be in the $20 million range.
At least one area developer, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent an email to Schoepflin and Empire State’s Sam Hoyt this week, saying he had been seeking a debriefing from state officials on Hotel Niagara, saying he was surprised by the state action of paying $4.4 million for the property given the number of issues associated with the building.
In the email, which has been supplied to this newspaper, the developer said he had been contacted by the media about his possible interest in bidding on Hotel Niagara, and also telling him that a deal has already been made with two hotel owners in Pennsylvania.
“Having said that,” the developer wrote, “my question is am I wasting my time pouring again thousands of dollars into preparing a bid that already has been fixed by State officials (such as yourself, Sam Hoyt, etc.) and city officials (mayor, etc.). I have not seen any public documentation stating what type of hotel and for that matter, a master plan from USA Niagara, a state agency, the state and for that matter the city of Niagara Falls master plan. Am I, along with a few other developers, wasting our time?”
We left a message for Schoepflin on Wednesday morning, but as usual, as was the case during the entire Hamister ordeal, he did not respond.
Is the developer out of line when you consider the deal that politically-connected Buffalo developer Mark Hamister got back in 2013 from the state to develop a prime downtown parcel with no financing in place? We all know how that went with construction only now underway.
And in the background, of course, is the corruption scandal over contracts awarded in the Buffalo Billion project, mostly centered on bidding tips given to a politically-active developer who won all the contracts. Three people in the Ciminelli firm have already been indicted.
The one consistency among these state development agencies is their reluctance to speak on the record or answer questions about what they are doing with taxpayer money. We saw that firsthand in the Hamister debacle and the full story of the Buffalo Billion pipeline has yet to be told.
So maybe the suspicious developer who is seeking more information about the Hotel Niagara before he makes any investment, has learned that most of the deal-making appears to take place behind closed doors, and he would indeed be foolish to get involved if there is a deal already in place, known only to a select few.