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New owner expected for Falls hotel by Feb. 4
Family-owned Canadian company nears purchase of Crowne Plaza

The 391-room Crowne Plaza Hotel in a prime downtown location at 300 Third St. will have a new owner by Feb. 4, less than a year after its mortgage lender reclaimed it in a foreclosure action.

Michael DiCienzo, vice president of the family-owned Canadian Niagara Hotels Inc., said Wednesday that a subsidiary of his company is buying the Crowne Plaza from Gramercy Investment Trust of New York, the mortgage lender.

GKK Hotel Niagara Owner LLC, a Gramercy subsidiary, bought the hotel for $21 million at a foreclosure auction last March in City Hall after the hotel fell behind on payments of its taxes, mortgage and other debts. The lender had started foreclosure proceedings in March 2009 on its $30 million mortgage.

DiCienzo said his agreement with Gramercy prevents him from disclosing how much his family business is paying to acquire the property from the lender.

The hotel, which opened in 1975 as the Niagara Hilton and then underwent changes in name and ownership, remained in operation during the foreclosure proceedings and is continuing to operate as the Crowne Plaza.

"It's in fantastic shape and is doing well," DiCienzo said Wednesday.

He said his company would install a restaurant and retail stores in the Crowne Plaza, making it a major attraction at Third and Old Falls streets, across the former E. Dent Lackey Plaza from the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel and a few blocks from Niagara Falls State Park.

"It's a premier location," he said.

When it first was opened as the Niagara Hilton, the property included a restaurant. But it closed when new owners installed a sports bar.

DiCienzo said his family's success at operating other properties has included combining hotel operations with restaurants and retail stores. The family's investment group owns the Days Inn at 443 Main St. and six hotels in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Its investments include the 20-acre Falls Avenue Entertainment Complex, the Sheraton on the Falls Hotel and Conference Centre, Crowne Plaza Niagara Falls-Fallsview, Skyline Inn and Hampton Inn by Hilton at the Falls, all in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Falls Avenue complex houses the three-acre Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, Rainforest Cafe, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, Hershey Store, Always Refreshing Coca-Cola Shoppe, MGM Studios Store and WWE Store and ride.

Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster welcomed the new ownership of the Crowne Plaza. The DiCienzos, he said, "are first-class operators who believe strongly in the idea of operating hotels in conjunction with retail and restaurant facilities."

The Empire State Development Corp. provided a $6 million grant toward a $21 million renovation of the hotel in 2006-07 by NS Partners, its owner at the time.

DiCienzo said the Buffalo law firm Philips Lytle LLP would represent his interests at the real estate closing, which is to be completed by Feb. 4. The property transfer eventually will be recorded in the Niagara County Clerk's Office in Lockport, but a staff member there said "sometimes that takes a couple of weeks."

e-mail: rbaldwin@buffnews.com

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