Hamister balks at Niagara Falls Council’s demand to raise land price - The Buffalo News

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Hamister balks at Niagara Falls Council’s demand to raise land price

NIAGARA FALLS – The City Council majority wants more money for the city-owned land in a $25 million proposed downtown development project, but the developer said publicly Wednesday that he won’t pay any more than what already has been offered.

Mark E. Hamister, chairman and CEO of the Hamister Group, said he’s not ready to walk away from the project despite the delay in obtaining approval from city lawmakers.

“I don’t understand what’s going on right now,” he said, “and I think it’s time the elected officials get together in a room and figure it out themselves.”

The three-member majority of the Council has said they believe that the parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. is worth more than $100,000, the amount of cash the city would receive in the proposed sale.

But project supporters say that view is shortsighted, in that the city and state are leveraging about $22 million in private investment in exchange for the land and a $2.75 million subsidy from the state.

The Council majority has also criticized the process leading up to the proposed deal with Hamister – one that calls for a five-story building with a 114-room hotel, 24 market-rate apartments and 5,000 square feet of retail space – by saying it has lacked “transparency.”

In his first public comments about the dispute, Hamister said his company will “to try and stay patient, for at least another month or two.”

The Council has said it believes that the parcel could be worth up to $2 million, possibly more.

But Hamister said he doesn’t believe that’s a proper valuation. “All you have to do is look around the city and see the number of ‘For Sale’ signs that have been there for years and years,” he said.

To address any concerns about a perceived lack of information, Hamister said, “If they advance questions to us, we will answer them, as we have done in good faith with complete transparency and complete honesty in the last 16 months.”

“Beyond that, the City of Niagara Falls needs to decide if they want developers such as us, and, maybe just as importantly, developments such as this proposed mixed-use development of a hotel, apartments, restaurant and beautiful banquet center.”

The Council majority Wednesday blocked a vote on the development deal for the project – the second time in two weeks that lawmakers have put off a vote on it. Councilman Charles A. Walker and Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti voted to move the item from the table.

The Council is on recess until September.

The No. 1 issue is the amount of money the city will receive for the parcel, said Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian.

Choolokian, who said that there are “a lot of loose ends” and that he’s “not trying to kill the project,” also said he wants to know how the state advertised the availability of the parcel for development.

Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione, also a member of the majority with Choolokian and Robert A. Anderson Jr., said he wants tighter language in the contract, noting he believes that Mayor Paul A. Dyster would be given too much latitude to make changes. “I can’t do vague deals,” Fruscione said.

In an unusual move, Dyster signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the Council’s regular business meeting, again stating why the project should move ahead and invoking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Open for Business” slogan for the state.

“I’m not sure I feel like we’re really open to business here,” Dyster said.

Hamister, who met with Choolokian before the Council meeting, said that he’s going to Pittsburgh today and that in two weeks he will be going to Pompano Beach, Fla.

There, he said he’s being warmly welcomed.

But the reception he’s getting in Niagara Falls?

“This is what I was warned about,” Hamister said.

Listen to Hamister’s full comments, including a statement as well as a question-and-answer with reporters, at The Brink blog.

Also check out what Choolokian said to reporters, also at The Brink.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com

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