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Cuomo intervenes to unblock Hamister hotel project in Falls

NIAGARA FALLS – A nasty political mailer hit mailboxes roughly a week before Primary Day that nearly made a developer walk away from a $25 million development proposal.

Some local elected leaders got wind that the developer, Mark E. Hamister, might have had enough of the Falls, a place he said he “was warned about.”

They called Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who then looked into the issue and made some of his own phone calls.

Two were to Hamister.

Cuomo also dispatched his point man in Western New York, Sam Hoyt, the former assemblyman from Buffalo who is regional president of Empire State Development Corp., to persuade a member of the City Council to break ranks with a three-member majority that was blocking the project.

Thursday, Cuomo flew out to the Falls to be on hand as a ceremonial agreement was signed on the project that he made sure was going to happen.

“I think Mr. Hamister was being subjected to the political process, which can be highly unpleasant. Take it from someone who gets subjected to the political process,” Cuomo said.

“And I think it was a little jarring to him as a private-sector businessman to now wind up as an issue in a political contest,” Cuomo said.

“His basic point was he didn’t want to have any part of it. And he didn’t know what was going to happen. He didn’t know if the project was going to become a political football.”

At that point, the proposed deal had been tabled by the City Council since early July.

“I’m tired of losing a lot of business projects because of politics,” Cuomo said, “and I assured him that I would get involved and work with local elected officials.”

Cuomo then told Hoyt to reach out to Councilman Robert A. Anderson Jr., part of a three-member Council majority that had tabled approval of the project.

“We were afraid that the project was going to come off the rails, which would have really been a tragedy,” Cuomo said.

Hoyt spent the better part of three days talking with and getting to know Anderson. They talked about the lawmaker’s concerns with some aspects of the proposed agreement.

Then, Monday morning, a news conference was announced, and Anderson, with Hoyt as his side, declared to the media that he supports the project – meaning that there were enough votes on the Council to move it forward.

The Council on Monday voted, 3-2, to allow the city to sell a city-owned parcel at 310 Rainbow Blvd. for the project, as well as for Mayor Paul A. Dyster to sign a development agreement with Hamister.

“This would not have happened without his personal involvement,” Dyster said of Cuomo.

“I looked into it. I then made a few phone calls. I spoke to Mr. Hamister, and we got the project back on track, and we’re here today celebrating,” Cuomo said after a ceremonial signing of an agreement among the city, the state and Hamister. “So I’m happy that I did get involved. I’m happy about the way local officials all came together and cooperated, and it’s a good day because of it.”

Hamister’s project, a five-story, mixed-use building at 310 Rainbow Blvd., is estimated to cost $25.3 million and includes a $2.75 million state grant.

The elected officials Cuomo spoke to about the situation included Dyster, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston.

Thursday, Maziarz thanked the governor for making the phone calls to Hamister that gave time for an agreement to be reached.

When Cuomo arrived in Buffalo for the announcement of a new state park along the outer harbor, it was Maziarz who passed Cuomo a note with Hamister’s cellphone number.

Hamister said a groundbreaking for the project is expected in the second half of 2014. He said he hopes his new hotel will either be a Hilton, Marriott or Intercontinental brand.