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Falls construction company sues Hamister over unpaid work on hotel

NIAGARA FALLS – A Niagara Falls construction company that worked on plans for the Hamister Group’s hotel in the Falls claimed in court papers this week that Hamister never paid it for its work.

Sicoli & Massaro Construction filed suit against Hamister in State Supreme Court in Niagara County, seeking payment for uncompensated work, plus at least another $500,000 for helping Hamister win the right to build the Hyatt Place Hotel.

After Sicoli & Massaro lost out on the construction contract last summer, the Falls company sent Hamister a $116,160 bill for past services.

“They refused to pay anything,” said Charles C. Ritter Jr., attorney for Sicoli & Massaro, which has been in business since 1960 and is well known in the Falls. “The response was, ‘We didn’t agree to pay you anything. Companies like you tag along with companies like us. It didn’t work out.’”

A Hammister Group executive said the lawsuit is without merit.

“The Hamister Group prides itself in conducting its business with honesty and integrity, and believes that the claims in the lawsuit are entirely without merit,” said Daniel Hamister, executive vice president and chief investment officer of the Hamister Group. “Unfortunately, just days after we broke ground on the Hyatt Place Hotel project, a disgruntled contractor who was not selected to act as the general contractor after a competitive bidding process decided to commence this litigation.”

After four years of delays, ground was broken July 12 for the $35 million, 128-room hotel on Rainbow Boulevard. USA Niagara, a state agency, granted Hamister $3.85 million toward the project after Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressured the City Council into voting, 3-2, to sell the lot to Hamister in 2013. The governor’s office called the mixed-use hotel the largest non-casino new development in the city in more than 40 years.

The lawsuit contends that Sicoli & Massaro thought it had an understanding with Hamister that it would be the construction contractor.

However, Ritter, senior partner in the law firm of Duke Holzman Photiadis & Gresens, acknowledged there is no single document that embodies such a commitment.

The construction job went to R&P Oak Hill Development of Blasdell, and Sicoli & Massaro was denied any role in the construction.

Ritter said he thinks the history of communications between Sicoli & Massaro and Hamister Group establishes that the Falls construction firm had good reason to believe it would receive the contract.

“In my mind, it’s very clear they were provided that assurance,” Ritter said. “What happened was, the individual at Hamister that was responsible for the project changed.”

The lawsuit said that man was Joseph M. McCabe, Hamister’s director of construction, who left the company after it won the right to develop the hotel.

Five years ago, when a state agency issued a request for proposals for development on the site at 310 Rainbow Boulevard, the Hamister Group contacted Sicoli & Massaro and asked for assistance in preparing its submission.

The lawsuit says Sicoli & Massaro provided budgets, job projections, contacts and prices from potential subcontractors and vendors, scheduling estimates and information about local trade and hiring. Hamister said in its response to the state that it used the material from Sicoli & Massaro in its bid.

In February 2012, Hamister was named the preferred developer.

In 2014, Hamister allegedly asked Sicoli & Massaro to evaluate the plans and calculate a construction cost, and the information was provided.

The suit says the construction company understood since 2011 “that it would either be compensated for its services provided to the Hamister Group based on its reasonable billing rates, or its expenses would be amortized through (its) participation and services in the subsequent construction effort.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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