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Developer cites natural wonder as hotel magnet; Falls downtown site praised by Hamister

A Buffalo developer who plans to build an upscale hotel in downtown Niagara Falls said Thursday that his reason for choosing the site was simple.

"Face it -- this is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It's a tourist destination," said Daniel M. Hamister, senior vice president of business development for the Hamister Group. "The location of this specific site is probably the best area for a hotel."

Hamister, whom the City Council on Wednesday approved as the parcel's preferred developer, plans to begin construction in 2013 on a mixed-use hotel at 310 Rainbow Boulevard, a prime but long-vacant parcel located minutes from the falls.

The $22.4 million hotel, which Hamister said could be a Hilton Garden Inn, Courtyard by Marriott or Hyatt Place brand, would feature 104 upscale hotel rooms, 24 residential units and up to 8,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and patios along Old Falls Street.

"It is significant," USA Niagara Development President Christopher J. Schoepflin said, adding that the hotel would be the first mixed-use urban building built in the downtown core since the city's urban-renewal era three decades ago.

"It's not only building on a spot that was vacant and arguably blighted for many years," Schoepflin said, "but to be part of the process for building a new building in the South End or downtown is especially meaningful."

The parcel formerly hosted a hot-air balloon ride, and city officials lauded Hamister's plan as the next step in repopulating downtown with some of the 8 million tourists who stream through Niagara Falls State Park each year and allowing them to interact with city residents.

They also said Hamister's five-to-seven-story hotel fits into the American landscape better than a high-rise hotel would have.

"The attraction we have on our side is proximity," Mayor Paul A. Dyster said. "Tourists are able to walk out the door and five minutes later to be standing at the brink of the falls."

The hotel, which would open in 2014, would benefit from expected traffic at the planned Niagara County Community College culinary institute and restaurant, and would follow the addition of other retail shopping, including T.G.I. Friday's, along Old Falls Street.

"I think this is one of the gains that has been made here in Niagara Falls," said Sam Hoyt, regional president for Empire State Development Corp. "[This project] has given some direction that investing in downtown Niagara Falls is a good thing."

Hamister's group, which owns hotels in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee, is also working on a project in downtown Buffalo's Tishman Building. The group will meet with state officials to negotiate a development agreement for the city-owned parcel in Niagara Falls. That process is expected to take between three and four months.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com