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In Niagara Falls visit, Cuomo hails new hotel overlooking rapids

NIAGARA FALLS - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that a new 191-room hotel overlooking the Niagara River rapids was the latest evidence that the state's efforts to strengthen the Niagara Falls economy are working.

In a speech to nearly 200 local residents and officials, Cuomo said he wants Empire State Development to "step up to the plate" in Niagara Falls, carrying out a multi-pronged plan to boost the Cataract City's economy.

Cuomo joined Mayor Paul A. Dyster and other officials in cutting a ribbon on the $37 million DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, a 192-room hotel at 401 Buffalo Ave. They used the event to trumpet state and city efforts to rebuild tourism in the City of Niagara Falls and Niagara Falls State Park.

"Our plan was and is to connect Niagara Falls back to the waterfront," said Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky. He said a Niagara River Gorge improvement project in particular would reclaim more green space than any other development in the Falls since Frederick Law Olmsted designed the state park more than 125 years ago.

The other ideas include redevelopment of vacant or underused property, including that owned by Niagara Falls Redevelopment around the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel; possible construction of a tourism lodge on Goat Island; and the creation of more recreational opportunities in Niagara Falls State Park and three other state parks in the area.

Zemsky contended that some 5,000 jobs could be created in Niagara Falls if the various projects result in tourists staying in town longer.

"You knew the private sector would follow with investment if the state did the right thing," Dyster told Cuomo.

Cuomo urged the crowd to lobby the State Legislature on behalf of his proposed state budget, which includes $500 million for Western New York economic development projects.

"It's not a gift to Western New York. It's an investment in Western New York that is going to pay dividends," Cuomo said.

The audience applauded loudly when Cuomo called on Zemsky's agency to "step up to the plate and reclaim some of those (vacant) properties."

The governor said ESD will be issuing a request for proposals for the proposed lodge on Goat Island in tandem with more recreational opportunities. "The one thing Canada beat us to is, they have more recreational activities on their side," Cuomo said. He said those activities, the lodge and the new hotels will drive more traffic into the city.

The DoubleTree project is part of a wave of new hotel development in Niagara Falls, including renovations to existing hotels and construction of four new hotels along the Niagara Scenic Parkway.

"Anytime Gov. Cuomo comes to Niagara Falls, it means good news," Dyster told the crowd. "The success stories are all over Western New York and Niagara Falls."

Faisal Merani's Merani Hotel Group reconstructed the DoubleTree by Hilton on the site of the former Fallside Hotel and Conference Center along the former Robert Moses Parkway, near the upper Niagara River. The Robert Moses Parkway was renamed the Niagara Scenic Parkway last year.

As part of the $37 million project, the company, working with Waterbourne Construction Advisors LLC as its contractor, demolished the two-story section of Fallside, renovated a four-story section and added a 178,000-square-foot tower overlooking the river.

Plans for the new nine-story hotel called for 16,000 square feet of banquet facilities, with a 450-person ballroom, as well as an indoor pool, a gym, a signature restaurant with an outdoor patio, and views of the upper rapids.

The project received a $2 million convertible loan from Empire State Development Corp.’s Upstate Regional Blueprint Fund and a $750,000 capital grant from USA Niagara Development Corp. to assist with the funding.

"Faisal (Merani) put money down to show that he believed. Goldman Sachs invested in a hotel in Niagara Falls, first time ever, because they believed," Cuomo said, referring to the Wall Street investment firm's decision to finance a Hamister Group hotel in downtown Niagara Falls, where construction started last year.

"Goldman Sachs does not believe easily. They don't operate on love. They operate on profit," Cuomo said. "They are betting on Niagara Falls, and that's a smart bet, because the energy and the success is all around us. You can feel it. You can feel the synergy in the region. Buffalo is doing well. Niagara Falls is doing well. They're feeding off each other."

Related: Cuomo pushes to redevelop prime Niagara Falls properties

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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