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Editorial: Hotel and water park proposal for Niagara Falls deserve better than official disdain

If a Canadian hotel developer wanted to build a $50 million luxury hotel and a $20 million “daredevil-themed water park in a financially, shall we say, “challenged” city wouldn’t it make sense to hear him out?

Michael DiCienzo has proposed the development on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls. His company envisions a 200-room, upscale hotel with “oversized suites” to be added on top of the existing Sheraton at the Falls hotel on Third Street, across from Seneca Niagara Casino. But the idea is meeting resistance that can only be called peculiar.

As reported in The News, American Niagara Hospitality stated it is negotiating “with a recognized musically themed hotel brand.” The ambitious plans include a 40,000-square-foot water park, with features named after local natural attractions, including a “Devil’s Hole” drop slide and “Devil Falls,” an interactive play area for children.

Part of the idea is to fill a niche, creating an attraction that will be accessible during slow months – between September and May. According to the company, the project will be an attraction for all demographics visiting Niagara Falls, which today offers too little to persuade visitors to extend their stay.

The project comes with the usual expectations of public money. Company officials hope that the state’s economic development agency, Empire State Development Corp., and its Niagara Falls affiliate, USA Niagara Development, will offer some assistance.

Several million state dollars have already gone into making that property developable, in addition to several amenities contiguous to the site. It does not follow that every hotel project gets public support. Or, in this case, even more public support.

Niagara Falls has been part of the Western New York Regional Economic Development strategy, and tourism has been one of the three focused industries. The state agency has supported creating an environment conducive for private-sector investment. It has invested in the park’s infrastructure, reconnecting the waterfront to the city through the reconfiguration of the old Robert Moses Parkway – now called the Niagara Scenic Parkway – and by investing significantly in the Niagara Gorge. That work includes improving the stairs, removing invasive species of plants and more.

There are water parks in and around that area and the free market tends to be the final determining factor in whether any of them thrive. Their mere existence should be no reason to oppose DiCienzo’s proposed project.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster’s response was less than enthusiastic about the company’s proposal. There is history. DiCienzo bid on redeveloping the Rainbow Centre but “lost out to Uniland in the state’s request for proposals.” Further complicating the situation, DiCienzo’s NFNY Hotel Management is pursuing a lawsuit against the city. Dyster has made his prognostication: There will be no further action on the sale of the vacant parcel unless DiCienzo gets a state subsidy.

The proposed project by a developer whose family has an extensive portfolio in the hospitality industry on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border must be considered on its merits. The enumeration of those merits should include the general lack of attractions in what should be one of the country’s premier tourist cities.

Whether public money should fund this private venture is another matter.

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