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GROUP GETS GO-AHEAD FOR ONTARIO CASINO

Six months after Falls Management Co. was declared preferred developer of a world-class resort hotel and casino here, objections to the selection have been turned aside, clearing the way for the massive project to get started.

The syndicate led by Hyatt Hotels -- and including a Buffalo investment group led by Paul L. Snyder -- plans to spend more than $1 billion Canadian to build the hotel, casino and related attractions.

The last hurdle was removed with Thursday's release of an independent report that termed "beyond reproach" the selection of Falls Management over several other bidders.

Prepared by Toronto lawyer Stanley Beck, the report was commissioned by the Ontario Casino Corp. to clear the air after allegations of conflict of interest concerning Coopers & Lybrand's role as consultant to the selection process. The objections centered on the fact that the major accounting firm numbers among its clients both Hyatt and one of its competitors for the Falls casino project, Aztar Corp.

In his review, Beck found the process "was not compromised in any way" by Coopers & Lybrand's failure to disclose those connections.

"Coopers behaved with professionalism and integrity throughout," Beck wrote, concluding: "The Niagara Falls bidding process was detailed, complex, open and fair. The selection of Hyatt as the winning bidder was beyond reproach."

"I am fully satisfied that any concerns raised about the selection process have been answered in full," Ron D. Barbaro, Ontario Casino Corp. chief executive officer, said of Beck's findings. Falls Management's plan "has been given a clean bill of health, and we look forward to seeing the project to its conclusion," he added.

Provincial officials gave the Ontario Casino Corp. the go-ahead to finalize terms of its agreement with Falls Management.

The news could not have been better for Falls Management and the Niagara region's government and business leaders, who are anxious for the huge development to get under way.

Besides the hotel and casino overlooking the famous waterfall, the Falls Management blueprint includes a Disney-style theme park, convention and shopping facilities, 12,000-seat indoor-outdoor amphitheater and 5.3-mile monorail loop connecting various sites. The monorail is expected to form the core of a citywide people-mover system.

The project is expected to trigger an unprecedented building boom on the Canadian side of the falls, including a number of new hotels.

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