The Houston couple renovating a downtown hotel are turning down $4 million in public money dedicated to the project because of state historic preservation requirements tied to the funding and the owners' desire to open for next year's tourist season, Mayor Paul A. Dyster said on Wednesday.
James and Judith Cook, owners of Amidee Hotels and Resorts and Amidee Capital Group, had accepted the money this summer to help in their $15.2 million renovation of the Hotel Niagara on Rainbow Boulevard.
"Concern about losing a season was very significant here," said Dyster, who met with Amidee President and Chief Operating Officer Judith Cook and other economic and planning officials in City Hall late Wednesday afternoon.
USA Niagara Development Corp., an arm of Empire State Development, the state's economic development agency, officially committed $3.5 million to the hotel project on July 30.
The city also pledged $500,000 from its share of slot machine revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino near the end of July.
Under terms of the offer, Amidee would have been reimbursed the $4 million once the work was completed, Dyster said.
The company still wants the hotel to open this spring, though the scheduled date for completion has been shifted from March to May, the mayor said.
Plans to restore the 12-story building, built in 1924, will move forward using Amidee's "own resources," company officials said.
Marjorie P. Davis, vice president of legal and acquisitions, said the company will need to readjust its budget and decide "what we must do in order to get it open."
The company will consider going back to its original plans, which Davis said were initially made because the company didn't expect any public dollars to be offered.
"We'll just need to put our pencils to it," Davis said by telephone Wednesday.
Strings attached to historic buildings can cause delays. Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, who has spent the past several years renovating the 20-story United Office Building in downtown Niagara Falls, has blamed historic preservation regulations for holding up work on his project. State and city money was used to get the project started.
In a press release issued late Wednesday morning, Amidee said the country's current fiscal woes prevented it from accepting taxpayer dollars for the project.
Officials said they believe the public funding could be put to better use.
". . .[W]e could not, in good conscience, take money from the government and other taxpayers for this project during this time of crisis," James T. Cook Jr., Amidee's chairman and CEO, said in a statement. "If we did such a thing, we would not be acting in a manner consistent with our principles and would be no better than those who are taking advantage of the situation."
In the same statement, Judith Cook said, ". . .[W]e believe the government's utilization of its funds in helping individual taxpayers with credit issues in order to save their homes would be a much more direct and effective manner for the government to help us carry out our social responsibilities."
Amidee Capital purchased the Hotel Niagara at auction for $4.6 million plus $300,000 in fees last year.
Dyster said an application for historic designation pending with the state may still be granted.