The Hamister Hotel deal is exactly the sort of fiasco that makes Niagara Falls such a special place. Choose a politically connected “developer” who apparently doesn’t have any money, hand him a parcel of prime real estate for pennies on the dollar, along with tax breaks and other incentives, then sit back and watch the years roll by while absolutely nothing happens whatsoever.
What were they thinking?
Hamister got the nod nearly three years ago as the city’s preferred developer for what is known as Parcel Four, a vacant piece of land on Rainbow Boulevard around 150 yards away from the entrance to the state park. The deal had to be done quickly, he said, so that construction could begin in the early spring of 2014.
Nobody really opposed the idea of a new hotel in the city’s tourist district, but the fact that Hamister had never built a hotel before caused some question. Popular former city councilman Sam Fruscione was so bold as to ask whether the developer actually had the money to do what he said he was going to do and an unprecedented wave of vitriol was unleashed against him.
He was an obstructionist, blocking development, was pro-organized crime and had committed numerous other unpardonable sins. He was running for reelection at the time and those spouting this nonsense included Mayor Paul Dyster, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on mailings, robocalls and radio and print ads, a media frenzy was worked up and Fruscione lost by a landslide in the primary.
Meanwhile Hamister downgraded the scope of the project – instead of a resort class Hilton the new hotel would be a boxy truck stop class Hyatt Place – even as the projected cost ballooned from $22.4 million to $35.7 million.
A nearly identical Hyatt Place was recently built in Amherst for around $18 million and successful hotelier Michael DiCienzo has said repeatedly he could do the same here if the project were turned over to his company.
But it won’t be. A couple of weeks ago the county Industrial Development Agency extended tax breaks for the project that were to have expired today if construction hadn’t begun for another six months. No other developer can take over the project so long as the IDA deal remains in place.
As many as five new hotels have opened in Niagara Falls since the Hamister deal was announced. They did so with little fanfare, and certainly without the involvement of the mayor, the governor and two United States senators.
Fruscione’s 2013 question – Did Hamister actually have the money to do what he said he was going to do? – has long since been answered. He did not.
You don’t have to look far in any direction here in Niagara Falls before the inevitable question pops into your head:
What were they thinking?
And, in most cases, the only conclusion you can reach is that they weren’t thinking at all.