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$10.4 million renovation under way at 26-story Seneca Niagara Hotel

The continuing economic recession has taken a toll on the City of Niagara Falls with empty storefronts, failed businesses, abandoned houses and untended vacant lots. But one shining jewel soars above all of that. It's the 26-story Seneca Niagara Hotel with its attached gaming casino.

With a year-round occupancy rate of about 95 percent, operators of the 604-room hotel announced Wednesday that it is in the midst of a $10.4 million renovation of its guest rooms to keep it ahead of the curve among the nation's most highly ranked hotels.

The Seneca Niagara Hotel opened less than six years ago -- on Dec. 31, 2005 -- but it already is getting a new look with new bedding, carpeting, furniture and wall coverings, crown molding, lighting adjustments and other amenities in its 486 deluxe rooms and 86 corner suites. Plans are being developed to also renovate the hotel's 22 center suites.

Gerad Hardy, vice president of resort operations for Seneca Niagara, said top quality hotels typically are modernized or renovated every five to seven years, so the work here is right on schedule.

He said work on four floors already is finished and work will continue one floor at a time, with completion expected in January. Hotel guests already are being booked in rooms on the floors that have been finished, he said, and most of them have given the work rave reviews.

The hotel at 310 Fourth St. has 16 rooms that are accessible to the handicapped, four of them with roll-in showers for guests who use wheelchairs.

"Seneca Niagara is an incredible destination as one of the finest gaming and entertainment properties in North America," said Cathy Walker, chief executive officer and president of Seneca Gaming Corp.

Seneca management announced Wednesday that the hotel has received the AAA four-diamond award for the sixth consecutive year. The AAA said the award recognizes hotels that are upscale in all areas, providing accommodations that are progressively more refined and stylish.

"With the popularity of the hotel and the sheer number of visitors and room nights we have seen over the past six years, we wanted to make a bold new statement that Seneca Niagara is the home of unmatched luxury and comfort," according to Robert Chamberlain, senior vice president of design and construction at the resort.

Karen Karsten, chairwoman of the Seneca Gaming Corp. board of directors, said the company provides "service and comfort" to more than 6 million visitors a year.

In addition to the hotel, the property includes a casino with more than 4,000 slot machines, 100 table games, two performance venues, five restaurants, a full-service spa and salon, indoor swimming pool, retail outlets, and rooms for banquets, meetings and conferences.

Rates for guest rooms at Seneca Niagara range from $99 to $499 per night for one or two persons, with variations based on the day of the week, time of the year, group reservations and tourism events that attract large numbers of visitors. Rates for suites range from $199 to $599 per night, subject to those same variations.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com