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City Council approves hotel project

An upscale hotel, residential and retail development in downtown Niagara Falls took a big step forward Wednesday.

The City Council greenlighted negotiations between a state development agency and the Hamister Group, following the announcement that the Buffalo-based group was selected from among seven proposals to develop 310 Rainbow Blvd., at Old Falls Street, 300 feet from the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park.

"I was born in 1966, and all I've ever seen them do is knock the buildings down, so to see something actually get built in my lifetime is big," said Council Chairman Sam Fruscione.

He added that he hoped to see prevailing wages and 100 percent local hiring for the estimated 219 construction jobs that would be created to go with 130 permanent positions.

"It's a great idea, and another sign that the city is moving in the right direction, and good things are beginning to happen," said Councilman Charles Walker.

The $22.4 million, 109,000-square-foot project on about nine-tenths of an acre -- where a balloon launch business closed in 2008 -- calls, preliminarily, for 104 upscale hotel rooms, 24 residential units and up to 8,000 square feet of ground-level retail space. It would stand five to seven stories tall.

Christopher Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara Development Corp., the state's economic development agency in the Falls, said the project offered the most private investment and least amount of public dollars among the five leading proposals, all of which incorporated lodging and retail space.

"A truly mixed-use building is something we have been striving for, and now to leverage some public investment with some potential significant private dollars is exactly what we're trying to accomplish," Schoepflin said.

Construction could start in 2013, he said, with an opening in 2014.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster heralded the development as another positive sign for the city.

"It's the first time in a generation that we have had a prime development block in such a key location so unencumbered that we could offer a request for proposals," Dyster said.

"We felt we'd achieved enough positive momentum with the downtown redevelopment overall that it was an opportune time to test the market, and I think our confidence was rewarded."

Dyster said his administration, along with Schoepflin, has contacted the other finalists to see if there could be interest in other downtown sites.

email: msommer@buffnews.com