BY MIKE HUDSON
State and local officials were looking sheepish and Buffalo developer Mark Hamister was spinning excuses at Tuesday’s long delayed groundbreaking for a small, midmarket hotel project that was first announced four years ago.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who has accepted campaign contributions from Hamister, offered up his usual blend of half-truth and non sequitur.
“This hotel is the first non-casino new development project of its size in our region here in more than four decades,” said Mayor Paul Dyster. “The difficult stuff we do right away, the impossible stuff takes longer.”
Of course this was utter nonsense.
A similar ho tel, a 110 room Wingate by Wyndham, on Rainbow Blvd,, was just completed.
And this year a DoubleTree by Hilton, located at 401 Buffalo Avenue in downtown Niagara Falls, will have 194 rooms when complete.
At 128 rooms the Hyatt Place is smaller than the DoublerTree and only a shade larger than the Wingate.
In terms of how much the boxy and faceless Hyatt Place is going to cost, Dyster may actually be correct.Hamister has pegged the project at $35 million, although an identical Hyatt Place was built off a freeway exit ramp in Amherst last year for $18 million.
Goldman Sachs is investing $24 million in the project while the state’s USA Niagara Development is givingHamister $4 million. The Niagara County Industrial Development Authority chipped in with $4.25 million in tax breaks over the next five years and the city of Niagara Falls sold Hamister the parcel the hotel is being built on for $100,000 even though its appraised value is $1.5 million.
In other words, state, county and city taxpayers have given Hamister $9.65 million of the $35 million he claims his dinky little hotel will cost.
Others involved in development along the Niagara Frontier questioned the deal.
“Goldman Sachs was only willing to put up $24 million, so clearly they don’t think the project is worth any more than that,” one source said. “He’s basically going to put some money in his pocket and get a free hotel.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has also accepted campaign contributions from Hamister and was on hand for the groundbreaking, admitted the process was difficult.
“This was not an easy birth,” Cuomo said, referring to the Hamister project which has languished in development for four years now. “I don’t know that any births are easy, but this was an especially complicated birth.”
For his part, Hamister mostly blamed the same government agencies that gifted him with nearly $10 million for the delays.
“We had to secure a bunch of approvals from the Niagara County IDA and I thank them for that,” saidHamister. “We had to bid this project out and we had to do so by complying with all of the state standards that we were required to abide by.”
“Actually, this project has gone pretty close to what we originally anticipated. It’s a complex project. It involves multiple steps,” he added.
And multiple sidesteps, apparently. In the four years that have passed since the announcement that Hamisterwould build the hotel, four other new hotels have opened in the city.
None of them was so dependent on government assistance.