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Lockport, North Tonawanda to study need for new hotels

LOCKPORT – The cities of Lockport and North Tonawanda have hired a Florida consulting firm to perform feasibility studies on possible new hotels in their cities.

The Greater Lockport Development Corp. approved a deal Thursday with Interim Hospitality Consultants of Tallahassee. The Lumber City Development Corp. agreed to the same terms Wednesday.

Each city’s development agency will pay Interim $4,500. R. Charles Bell, Lockport director of planning and development, said that’s a $1,000 discount off the company’s usual fee.

Bell said the cities will split Interim’s expenses for travel and other costs for preparing the reports. Lockport was given a quote of about $3,400 in expenses, but Bell said the division with North Tonawanda may not work out to be exactly 50-50.

The studies will attempt to determine the likelihood of a hotel succeeding in the cities by attempting to gauge the market demand and the desirability of possible sites.

Since it became known that both cities were dealing with Interim, Bell said he has received a “feeler” from the Cobblestone Inn chain, and he was told that his North Tonawanda counterpart, Michael Zimmerman, got a call from a “heavy hitter.”

Zimmerman and North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt did not return calls Thursday.

“This guy’s networked,” Bell said of Edward L. Xanders, Interim’s president. “We met with him here. He seems very knowledgeable. We got a copy of one of his reports. There’s value there.”

“With the ice rink opening, the timing is perfect,” said Heather B. Peck, program manager for Lockport Main Street.

Players and parents visiting the new Cornerstone Arena for hockey games are expected to be a major driver for any new hotel.

Lockport has a Best Western, a Comfort Inn and Lockport Inn and Suites. North Tonawanda has no hotels.

“This is a study that says here’s your occupancy rate, here’s your room rate. It drills down to that,” Bell said.

The Lockport study will focus on the downtown area only, as the three existing lodgings are all on South Transit Street near the city’s southern border.

“We’re talking about maybe a new build, maybe an existing building,” Bell said.

The possibilities for repurposing an existing building include the Lockport YMCA on East Avenue, and 57 Canal St., now partially occupied by the Trek Inc. research and development center.

Bell said that operation could easily be moved to Harrison Place, where Trek has its manufacturing plant.

The YMCA might become vacant if the organization succeeds in raising money for its long-delayed plan to build a new facility in the Town of Lockport.

“If the study says there’s no demand, the project stops,” said James Macaluso, chairman of the GLDC board.

Interim’s offer said if the study concludes that a hotel is not feasible, its price for the report will be cut to $3,500.

Bell said he inquired about a study from a Chicago firm. “They were quoting me $18,000,” he said.

Board member Dennis Devine said, “I think it’s a good idea. I think it’s a decent price.” But he questioned whether hotel chains don’t do such studies themselves. Bell said the answer to that is often no. “I’ve reached out a little bit, and their first question is, ‘What are your numbers?’ ” he said.