Inside a new $7.2 million, 78-room Lewiston hotel with sweeping river views, workmen are finishing marble tiled bathrooms and smoothing new wood floors to prepare for a June 1 opening that has already provoked summer wedding bookings.
On an afternoon this week, the Barton Hill Hotel at 100 Center St. had piles of gravel yet to be spread by the curving front sidewalk, exposed metal beams that will become second- and third-floor verandas and wicker furniture still wrapped in plastic in the lobby. An old mansion-turned-inn across the street will reopen as the hotel's salon-spa in July.
These are the elements the owners hope will lure visitors to spend $189 to $259 a night to stay. "Over the years, we just had this concept in our heads . . . It's all about this certain feel," said Diane Finkbeiner of the project she and her husband, Ed, began working on a few years after they moved to Lewiston from California in 2002.
The area has long been in need of more guest rooms, said Sandy Hays Mies, president of the Lower Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce. There are now about 40 in a collection of bed and breakfast inns and motels in and around Lewiston, Youngstown, Porter and Sanborn, she said.
"It's just not enough for folks to think of this area as an overnight destination," said Hays Mies. Yet, she said, there are enough local attractions to keep people engaged for longer visits: Fort Niagara, the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University, Artpark concerts and theater. "There's plenty to do here," Hays Mies said.
The collection of local attractions, including light traffic, were part of what appealed the Finkbeiners.
Diane Finkbeiner, a North Tonawanda native, left Western New York after she graduated as a history major at the University at Buffalo. She later met her Pittsburgh-native, developer husband in California.
They decided to relocate from Laguna Beach with their four children when they found an old Lewiston mansion for sale -- the "Barton House." Their new hotel, near their home, is less than a mile away from Artpark. It faces the river and dock for the "Whirlpool Jet Boats" that take riders through the rapids in the Niagara Gorge.
"Summer is really a slam dunk here in Lewiston," Finkbeiner said.
"We'd been looking up and down the Eastern seaboard for the perfect place," she said of she and her husband's desire to get away from the crowds and wealth-orientation of California.
They now have a house, the hotel, 15 home building lots in Youngstown, and more plans Finkbeiner isn't quite ready to talk about.
"I have to laugh," she said at the convergence of good things. "It's 44 minutes to the Buffalo airport. The whole world's right here!"