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Tax breaks for Hamister hotel project in Niagara Falls are extended despite inaction

WHEATFIELD – Tax breaks granted to the Hamister Group last year for a downtown Niagara Falls hotel that hasn’t been built were extended for six months Wednesday by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

The company was granted a six-month extension of its reduced property taxes and its right to have a sales tax exemption on all building materials, equipment and furnishings for what is supposed to be a $35.7 million, 128-room Hyatt Place hotel. The company hasn’t closed on the deal in the year since the IDA board granted those incentives, and they would have expired March 31.

“It is not uncommon that we grant one or two six-month extensions,” IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele told the board. “Pulling the resolution pretty much guarantees the project shuts down.”

But nothing has happened on the Rainbow Boulevard site since the incentive package was first approved. Gabriele said the company told him that it has yet to arrange bank financing for the hotel.

IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said, “We have a couple (of projects) that can’t get the financing, and I’m surprised they didn’t have it in the first place. … Sixty percent of the time, there’s no one walking the streets of the City of Niagara Falls. Finance people notice that.”

IDA member Jerald I. Wolfgang said the Hamister project is losing support in the Falls. “It doesn’t seem to be moving forward,” he said. “It just seems like a very big negative.”

He asked Gabriele whether there was anything more the IDA could do to move the project along, but Gabriele said the agency already has given what aid it can: breaks estimated to save the company $4.25 million over 10 years.

USA Niagara Development Corp., a state agency, granted Hamister $3.85 million toward the project, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lobbied the City Council to sell Hamister the lot for $100,000 in 2013.

Blaine S. Schwartz, Hamister’s attorney, said he couldn’t comment on why the project isn’t moving. Repeated calls to a Hamister spokesman were not returned.

Also Wednesday, the board approved a new state-mandated policy to recapture benefits from companies that don’t keep their promises to the IDA, especially in terms of payments in lieu of taxes or job creation.

The policy says that any “false or misleading statement as to any fact which is material to the applicant’s application for benefits” also can be grounds for forfeiture of incentives.

Sloma said, “We’re going to be looking at a whole bunch of projects that aren’t doing what they should.”