Developer Mark Hamister still wants to build a $25 million development project in downtown Niagara Falls, but it sure came close to not happening.
Hamister said Friday that on Thursday he had been “99 percent” leaning toward withdrawing his plan for a five-story, mixed-use building with a hotel, apartments and retail space.
“The events of this week have been disturbing and distasteful to me,” Hamister said Friday, particularly an anonymous political mailer supporting Falls Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione that also accused Hamister of being a con man.
Hamister described the mailer as “despicable.”
“It is what’s wrong with American politics,” Hamister said. “I’ve read the same reports you’ve read. I’m disturbed about who might be involved in this.”
Western New York Progressive Caucus, a political action committee, acknowledged sending the mailer.
Among its funding sources, the committee has received a $45,000 contribution from State Sen. Tim Kennedy’s campaign, as well as a $20,000 loan from former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon, a political ally of Fruscione and whom Fruscione calls a friend.
Fruscione has denied any knowledge about where the mailer came from and has said he had nothing to do with it.
Hamister said the personal involvement of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is what helped him decide not to pull out of the development proposal.
“I’m thankful for the governor’s time and thankful for the governor’s commitment to do the right thing for the City of Niagara Falls,” Hamister said.
Hamister said he twice spoke to Cuomo at length Thursday.
Cuomo asked him to “postpone any decision that might be negative to the project” and to give the process roughly another week of time, Hamister said.
“After those discussions with the governor, I have agreed to provide the governor and his people the time and the opportunity to see if they can bring this to a positive resolution,” he said.
“He was thoughtful, desirous of learning what all of the issues were, and he is, I believe, now fully engaged in helping to find solutions to all of the issues and to bring a level of sanity and focus,” Hamister said.
He said the governor’s involvement has “already started to turn some minds.”
Hamister said there are good politicians who are more committed to good government than partisan politics, citing Cuomo and Rep. Brian Higgins as examples.
Earlier this week, members of the three-member City Council majority said they still have concerns about the proposed agreement with Hamister.
The majority – consisting of Fruscione, Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian and Councilman Robert A. Anderson Jr. – said they want a number of things before they would feel comfortable moving forward:
• A letter of financial commitment from Hamister proving he has the funding for the project.
• The property at 310 Rainbow Blvd., across the street from Niagara County Community College’s Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, to be ineligible for benefits from the “tax-free zones” the state wants to put around college campuses.
• A promise that any payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement that may be granted is not renewed after the initial 10-year period.
Hamister called the issues raised by the Council majority “red herrings,” adding he believes they have never been made a part of any project previously submitted to the Council.
Hamister said he does not know why they raised the issue of financing, pointing to the $40 million project at the Tishman Building in Buffalo that his Hamister Group has undertaken.
Hamister also said the concern over a funding commitment is “a cart and horse issue” – in order to have final financing in place, he said he has to have a franchise; to have a franchise, he has to have site control; and in order to have site control, he has to have a development agreement, Hamister said.
And it’s the approval of a development agreement that’s been tabled by the Council since early July.
Hamister also said he has agreed the project would not pursue benefits of the tax-free zone. He does not believe the project would be eligible anyway.
Hamister, whose office also issued a written statement Friday morning, said he continues to believe the project would be good for Niagara Falls, adding it “could be beginning of a resurgence of downtown Niagara Falls.”