Hope for Hamister proposal remains - The Buffalo News

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Hope for Hamister proposal remains

An intervention Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has pulled the Hamister Group’s $25 million development proposal for downtown Niagara Falls back from the brink of extinction.

Cuomo spoke by phone with developer Mark Hamister and told Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster that there is no imminent announcement coming from the developer, Dyster told The Buffalo News late Thursday.

The governor told Dyster he wants all the stakeholders involved in the mixed-use development proposal to get together and try to work out their problems, Dyster said.

The governor also told the mayor the project is “important to him” and “important to his economic strategy for Niagara Falls and Western New York,” Dyster said.

City Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione, who, with his colleagues in the Council majority, has tabled an agreement with the Hamister Group for two months, declared Thursday night that he supports the project.

“I’ve supported every single hotel project,” he said. “I’m just trying to put a couple protections in place to protect the public.”

Fruscione, in addition to maintaining that the Hamister Group is paying the city too little for the land, has wanted assurances that the project has proper financial backing and that local workers will be hired to construct it.

He indicated Thursday night that another vote on the project might be taken next week.

“Hamister’s attorneys are supposed to report back to us next week,” he said, “and we’ll vote on it. It’s nothing unusual. We did the same thing with the Holiday Market. We just want to get some protection for the taxpayers.”

The future of the project seemed even more up in the air than it already was earlier Thursday in the wake of an anonymous political mailer.

Earlier this week, mailboxes in Niagara Falls were hit by oversized postcards that praised Fruscione for questioning the project and called Hamister a con man.

The top of one side of the mailer reads: “ ‘Developer’ Mark Hamister is running a con game on the city of Niagara Falls ... and he just got caught!”

It goes on to laud Fruscione for asking questions about the deal and carries a message asking voters to cast their ballot for Fruscione in next week’s Democratic primary election for City Council.

“Let’s keep Councilman Sam Fruscione fighting for us in Niagara Falls,” the anonymous mailer reads, “because there [sic] probably other con men out there who want to take advantage of Niagara Falls.”

An independent political action committee, the WNY Progressive Caucus, said Thursday evening that it was responsible for the mailer.

“We regret that this was perceived as a personal attack,” said Dan Jones, a spokesman for the PAC. “We were just trying to educate the voters. We think Sam Fruscione has done a good job of asking tough questions and standing up for the Niagara Falls taxpayers. We are not holding a position one way or another on the [hotel] project.”

Jones added that the PAC has had no contact with Fruscione.

Hamister had planned to call a news conference Thursday afternoon to talk about the project, but it was canceled early Thursday morning.

A spokeswoman for the Hamister Group declined to comment Thursday.

Dyster had made himself available to meet with Hamister on Thursday. No meeting happened, but Dyster said he planned to keep a dialogue going with the developer.

In a letter to Hamister sent Thursday, the Niagara USA Chamber offered support for the project, which it said “could be an economic boom to Niagara Falls.”

“We applaud your willingness to invest over $25 million in what will become a high visibility mixed-use hotel, which in no doubt will bolster the economy through tourism and additional private investment,” wrote Deanna Alterio Brennen, the Chamber’s president and chief executive officer.

“In spite of some of the challenges this project is facing, we want you to know the Niagara USA Chamber and the business community in Niagara County supports you.”

For his part, Fruscione said he had nothing to do with the anonymous mailer and did not know who did.

Fruscione, however, did characterize much of the message of the mailer as accurate, in that the questions he and his colleagues have raised are the reasons the situation has progressed the way it has.

“I appreciate it,” Fruscione told The Buffalo News, noting the mailer was sent by someone apparently speaking on his behalf.

Fruscione also said he did not think the mailer “matters much at all,” adding that anonymous mailers had come out in early August critical of his stance on the proposed Hamister project.

The Hamister Group’s proposal for a $25.3 million mixed-use development, including a five-story hotel, apartments and retail space, at 310 Rainbow Blvd., was selected after a request for proposals was issued by USA Niagara Development, the Niagara Falls arm of Empire State Development.

The City Council tabled the proposal on July 8, initially raising concerns about the “transparency” of the process, as well as the $100,000 the city was to receive for the parcel. An attempt to bring the proposal to a vote later in July failed.

Under the proposed agreement, Hamister would receive $2.75 million from the state for the project. The parcel of land had been seen as the city’s contribution to the project from early on, including when the Council designated Hamister as the preferred developer in early 2012.

News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report. email: abesecker@buffnews.com

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