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Iskalo Development plans update of Lord Amherst hotel; $3.5 million deal to receive about $80,000 in tax breaks

Iskalo Development Co. believes the Lord Amherst Hotel in Snyder has a chance to make a comeback.

The developer plans to invest about $500,000 in the Main Street property. If the hotel's results improve, a more extensive makeover of the property could follow.

"We think it has some life left in it," said David Chiazza, executive vice president of Iskalo Development. "We'd like to see whether it does."

Iskalo expects to complete its purchase of the Lord Amherst from the Genrich family next month. The Amherst Industrial Development Agency on Friday, by a 4-2 vote, approved about $80,000 in sales and mortgage tax savings for the $3.5 million project.

The 100-room hotel opened nearly 50 years ago. Chiazza said Iskalo's initial plan after taking ownership calls for upgrading about 60 of the rooms, with items like new bedding, towels and carpets, as well as mechanical and roofing improvements to the property.

Chiazza told the Amherst IDA board that the hotel, under its current ownership, is operating at a "break even" level. "We think that's largely due, over the past 10 to 15 years, to a lack of investment in the hotel," he said.

The Lord Amherst property includes an adjacent building leased to Sonoma Grille. The restaurant, owned by Michael Militello, is on a long-term lease and will continue to operate, Chiazza said.

While the Lord Amherst needs improvements, Chiazza said the 5000 Main St. property has a prime location, with easy access to the Youngmann Expressway, and the cachet of being designed by renowned architect Duane Lyman.

The Lord Amherst competes in the "economy" segment of the hotel industry, Chiazza said. After the initial upgrades are made, Iskalo will evaluate the Lord Amherst's performance before deciding whether a more comprehensive renovation would be worthwhile, he said.

"We have to be realists and say, we kind of have to invest in phases and see how it responds to the first dose of medicine, if you will," Chiazza said.

Recent reviews posted included guests criticizing the condition of the property. Others said they liked the accommodations and complimented the price and location.

After making upgrades, Iskalo will also consider whether to keep running the Lord Amherst as an independent hotel or to seek a franchise affiliation that would supplant the Lord Amherst name. A franchise relationship would link the hotel to a widely accessible reservations system and provide broader name recognition.

Chiazza said Iskalo would give the hotel about two years to measure the results. If the hotel "falls flat," the developer would consider other uses for the property, he said.

Separately, an "upscale restaurant" is in talks to move into a site where Prime Wines Corp. will relocate, said Samuel Shapiro, an attorney for Prime Wines.

Prime Wines is moving its Premier Liquor store from the Town of Tonawanda to 3900 Maple Road, near the Boulevard Mall. Two new buildings for Prime Wines will be constructed on the site of a demolished car dealership. A third new building at the site would house the restaurant, which Shapiro did not identify.

The building that would house the restaurant is not covered by an incentive package the Amherst IDA approved last month for the Prime Wines project.

Prime Wines will increase the size of one of the other two buildings by 12,000 square feet, to accommodate an unidentified retail gourmet foods business.