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Tax break sought to build restaurant at Falls hotel

While several Niagara Falls hotel projects languish in the economic doldrums, one group brought forward a plan Wednesday to add a restaurant to its holdings.

Merani Holdings, which is renovating the Holiday Inn, 114 Buffalo Ave., applied to the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency for a 7,800-square-foot family-oriented restaurant to be built on part of the Holiday Inn's parking lot.

The IDA board set a public hearing on Merani's request for a 10-year property tax break on the restaurant for 4 p.m. July 3 in Niagara Falls City Hall. The board is expected to vote on the project at its July 11 meeting.

The Niagara Falls City Development Corp. and Empire State Development each granted Merani Holdings $550,000 toward the $3.8 million hotel makeover.

The restaurant project is estimated to cost $1.4 million while adding the equivalent of 30 full-time jobs to the 64 full-time equivalents now working at the Holiday Inn, formerly the Four Points Sheraton. Merani, based in Niagara Falls, Ont., has owned it since 2005.

Merani would save an estimated $362,000 on its taxes over the next decade if the IDA approves the deal.

"It's always encouraging to see private investment in downtown Niagara Falls," IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said.

Faisal Merani, the firm's vice president, said he hopes a local restaurateur will move into the new building.

Meanwhile, his firm has received city approval for a demolition and reconstruction project at the former Fallside Resort, 401 Buffalo Ave.

"We are going to tear down everything left of the lobby and build" a 90-foot-high tower, Merani said.

He said the tower, now in the architectural design phase, is the company's response to complaints from hotel chains that were asked to rebrand the hotel that its rooms are too small to suit today's customers.

The IDA granted a five-year, 100 percent tax exemption for the Fallside project in 2009.

While Merani's plans progress, several other Niagara Falls hotel developers that won IDA approvals had to ask for extensions of the start of their tax breaks today because of stalled projects.

Extensions were given to SAI Lodging, Niagara Falls Hospitality, Vishal Corp. and Falls Hotel LLC.

It was the second extension for SAI, which won a tax break in 2009 for a 79-room hotel on Rainbow Boulevard. The other projects, all on Niagara Falls Boulevard, won tax abatements in 2011.

Niagara Falls Hospitality is to build a 75-room Microtel on the site of the former Captain's Cove bar. Vishal is to erect a 66-room Ramada Inn at the site of the former Sunrise Inn. Falls Hotel last year won a tax break for a 72-room Hampton Inn at the northbound I-190 exit ramp.

"There has been delay due to the economic times and the delay in getting proper financing," IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele said, adding he had talked to the developers and is confident the projects will eventually go forward.