The Hamister Group is spearheading major development projects in downtown Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Both multi-use facilities will include hotels.
Mark E. Hamister, president and CEO, talked with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer about regional development and tourism. Here are some issues covered in an interview that is part of the “In Focus” series. Watch the full interview above.
Meyer: We’re seeing significant development in pockets of Western New York. Do you think that what we’re seeing is a game-changing development event, or is it more of a short-term fix?
Hamister: I believe that the environment we’re in today is clearly transformational. It’s a game-changer … and I think it’s fueled principally by two significant public-sector investments in this community. First and foremost, the health care corridor. The various players – the University at Buffalo, Kaleida, Roswell Park and others – all coming together and developing an infrastructure, as well as a collaboration of scientists, all on one campus. I believe it has already had its transformational impact on Western New York, but will continue to have that level of impact for 20, 30, 40 years to come. The second significant change in our community has been Canalside. The rather significant public-sector investment that has gone on to development that, along with some private-sector input and an envisioning of a tremendous public entertainment environment that this community has never had on its waterfront. It has created a new image for Western New York – a new vibrancy for people to think about what a great city we have here.
Meyer: Then we cast our sights north to Niagara Falls. Your development company has been in the news involving this $25 million project that finally got approval. There has been talk about revitalizing Niagara Falls [for decades]. To call it snail’s-pace development would be slandering snails in some people’s estimation. Are we seeing any real signs that there is going to be anything different there?
Hamister: I think Niagara Falls is much earlier in the process than Buffalo. But I think there are at least two factors there, as well, that are changed. In this case, it’s not things that have developed so much as it is people who are committed to seeing development through. It starts with the mayor. Mayor [Paul] Dyster is an honest individual. He is forthright, he’s a good communicator, and he clearly has a vision for making Niagara Falls into something special … So it started with the mayor. But we also have a governor today who is extremely focused on Niagara Falls, and a governor who is going to make things happen. He is committed; he is of the mind that no one is going to get in his way. He wants to make a difference. … This [project] is more than a hotel for the governor, and I think he displayed that … when he came out a month later through his lieutenant governor and announced a $40 million competition – not for more hotels, but instead for entertainment value in the community. Niagara Falls is great, but if you really want to keep people in Niagara Falls, you have to give families a reason to stay there. And as we all know, family entertainment – family vacations – are not controlled by the adults. They’re controlled by the kids. We take our kids where they want to go. … We need entertainment value beyond the falls itself. We’re bringing 8 million people to the falls. It’s an enormous asset. What we’re not doing is giving them something to do once they’ve seen the falls.
Meyer: There has been a lot of talk about a children’s museum at Canalside. Let’s talk about the synergy between Niagara Falls and Erie County tourism. Is there enough, and do you see any changes?
Hamister: We hope to see some changes. But in order for there to be change in that level of collaboration for the two, both communities have to have an improvement to the family-friendly entertainment opportunities. … We like the idea of having a hotel in each of the two locations so that we can develop entertainment packages and move people from Niagara Falls to Buffalo [or vice versa], hopefully for three or four days each.