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Landmark in waiting is result of hard work

This tiny village will soon be in for the big opening: a multimillion-dollar, four-story, 78-room luxury hotel, complete with underground parking, a spa and penthouse views of the Niagara River.

The dynamic duo behind this "destination inn" live next door. Diane and Ed Finkbeiner moved from Southern California to Lewiston in 2002, when they bought their house on historic Barton Hill.

Now the couple and their four children -- ages 19, 17, 14 and 7 -- will preserve their own view and share it with others at the Barton Hill Hotel and Spa. The new hotel at Center and South First streets sits flush with the hill and conveniently below the original Barton Hill.

Visitors will enjoy rooms that attempt to capture the history of the 1800s, while providing all the perks patrons would expect in a high-end hotel. The Finkbeiners' hotel site also promises a day spa, restaurant, boutique, ballroom and restaurant.

Diane is a former executive vice president for a document technology company who traveled all over the United States. Ed is a real estate developer who also sits on the village Zoning Board. He said the couple didn't come to Lewiston to build a hotel. They originally came to retire.

Some retirement.

The Buffalo News recently caught up with Diane Finkbeiner as she rushed from room to room making plans and stopping for breaks as curious residents asked how soon they could book a room at the new lodging, scheduled to open late this month or in July. Ed also answered some questions, which appear at the end of this Q&A.

>I know you're a big history buff. Are you still on the village historical society board?

I'm president. I've been their president for the past two years, and they're going to let me stay on for one more year.

>The hotel is brand new, but the stone facade makes the building looks like it has always been here.

That was the goal. The biggest compliment we can get is when people come up and say, 'Oh you're rehabbing that, how hard is it?' They think it has been here. Then we've won, because a lot of work went into scaling this project to fit the community. Stone was used heavily back [in the 1800s, when many village structures were built]. The exterior is all hand-cut granite. Underground parking was all part of the ambience. You don't want to see a bunch of cars.

>You lived in California before you came here.

I'm originally from North Tonawanda, and Ed's from Pittsburgh. We had been coming to visit Lewiston for years to visit and see family. It was like a snapshot. Every time we came to Lewiston we'd see a big improvement, the streets, the sidewalks, the light fixtures, Lewiston Landing. Every time, we'd see quantum leaps in an effort to re-create and preserve. [Former Mayor] Margie Toohey and [Mayor] Dick Soluri have done a fabulous job.

>Why did you move to Lewiston? You said one time that you came here to retire.

Retirement for us meant that we just wouldn't work as hard. But this is the hardest we've ever worked in our lives. When Dick Soluri called to welcome us, he said [Lewiston] needed an inn. He knew we didn't plan that for our house. So Ed said, 'I'll build you one.' It was just an off-the-cuff comment, but it stuck in the back of his mind and got tied in with the idea that he had wanted to build one.

>What will this hotel be like?

It won't be like a hotel, but more like and elegant country home that's several hundred years old. We don't want to fool people, but give them the feel.

Ed Finkbeiner always seems to be found chopping away at stone. Diane said that when the couple couldn't find the stone they needed for the inn, Ed fabricated it himself. He spoke to The News while holding a sledgehammer. He said it was his "lucky hammer," which he brought with him from Southern California.

>Ed, will you ever be done?

No, no. I work until the last days. When this is done we'll have houses and town homes. We already have foundations poured for a house in Youngstown. We bought 15 lots there.

>It sounds like when you came to the Lewiston area you were sold.

We looked everywhere. It has everything. This area is one of the best-kept secrets in the world. Southern California is great place to go to, but you don't want to live there. It's too noisy, too dusty, too many block walls.

>How have you got here, planning to open a new hotel?

You can't extend the thanks far enough. It's a real heart thing. We're building a legend, not a hotel. We never moved here with the thought of building a hotel in our backyard. But this land was entitled in such a way that we wanted to have control over the noise and the lights. So that was part of the reason. You can shut everything down at a certain time. The windows don't open, so everything is contained. It allows the house on the hill to exist with no disturbance.

>How have you come to have completed this project when so many others fail?

We have a lot of energy. We're type A personalities. But in California, you have to finish. People are in line waiting to take over your position, and the penalties are so severe that you never don't complete. It's a big deal to be a developer. You have an obligation to your bank and your community. Also, my time is too valuable. Before we even start, I've already put in a thousand hours of due diligence.

>But now other people will "discover" Lewiston.

We don't want to be victims of our own success. We are looking at how we can control it. But there are few properties available. It's like a resort community, most of the impact is during the day. They can discover it, but then they have to go. People [in the hotel] will live like the community.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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