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Water park, luxury hotel part of $70 million plan in Niagara Falls

Canadian hotel developer Michael DiCienzo wants to build a $50 million luxury hotel and a $20 million "daredevil-themed" water park on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls, but the Niagara Falls mayor sounded less than supportive of the project on Tuesday.

DiCienzo's company is proposing a 200-room, upscale hotel with "oversized suites" to be added on top of the existing Sheraton at the Falls hotel on Third Street, across from Seneca Niagara Casino. American Niagara Hospitality says it is negotiating "with a recognized, musically themed hotel brand."

Plans also call for a 40,000-square-foot water park at the site, with features named after local natural attractions, including a "Devil's Hole" drop slide and "Devil Falls," an interactive play area designed for children.

"This new development project would be able to support the marketplace specifically during the time the market needs the most help, between the months of September and May," the company said in a news release. "This luxury hotel combined with the waterpark will be the only one of its kind in the marketplace and will be an attraction in and of itself for all demographics visiting Niagara Falls, N.Y."

A rendering shows plans for a $50 million luxury hotel that would be built atop the existing Sheraton at the Falls hotel. (Courtesy American Niagara Hospitality)

The proposal was unveiled Monday before the Niagara Falls City Council. The developer plans to seek some financial support from the state's economic development agency, Empire State Development Corp., and its Niagara Falls affilliate, USA Niagara Development, the company said in a news release.

Geoffrey Reeds, vice president of sales and marketing for American Niagara Hospitality, said DiCienzo wants assistance "commensurate with the level (the state has) provided to other hospitality projects."

But Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he doubts Empire State Development would make that deal because the proposed water park would be located basically next door to Uniland Development's planned Wonder Falls Resort in the former Rainbow Centre Mall. That project already is to receive state subsidies. Dyster said DiCienzo bid on redeveloping the Rainbow Centre, but lost out to Uniland in the state's request for proposals.

"I can understand why (Empire State Development) would not want to subsidize a water park project by the loser of the RFP next door to a water park project by the winner of the RFP," Dyster said.

Reeds said he was surprised by Dyster's comments.

"Water parks actually work well in clusters as evidenced by  the three in Niagara Falls, Ont., and the five in the Poconos," the developer's spokesman said.

An Empire State Development spokeswoman did not offer any comment on whether the state would provide financial incentives to help DiCienzo expand his hotel and build a water park. But the agency has invested nearly $7 million in DiCienzo's Niagara Falls property in the past, said Laura Magee, the spokesman.

"To suggest he is being treated unfairly is simply not true,” she said in an email.

In order to make the project work, American Niagara Hospitality would have to acquire a parcel of land next to the Sheraton as a site for the water park. Niagara Falls Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson said DiCienzo signed a purchase contract to buy the 0.57-acre parcel two years ago for $189,262.50. However, Johnson said DiCienzo decided not to close on the deal and forfeited a $1,000 deposit.

Dyster said he believes that there will be no further action on a sale of the vacant parcel unless DiCienzo gets a state subsidy.

In addition, DiCienzo's NFNY Hotel Management currently is pursuing a lawsuit against the city, filed in February 2016, alleging misuse of the "bed tax" money the city collects from hotels and motels for the benefit of the former Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., now called Destination Niagara USA.

That lawsuit is due for a hearing in State Supreme Court next month, Johnson said.

Dyster said DiCienzo would like a cut of the bed tax to be used in subsidizing his new hotel and water park project. Asked if he thinks the city would give DiCienzo any bed tax money, Dyster answered, "No."

The Niagara Falls City Council voted 3-2 Monday to table to renewal of the city's bed tax contract with the tourism promotion agency. The mayor said he thinks the vote on the bed tax contract and the DiCienzo request for that money were related, since DiCienzo has support on the Council.

DiCienzo has previously discussed plans for the water park with city officials.

The DiCienzo family owns properties on both sides of the border in Niagara Falls. In addition to the Sheraton at the Falls, the company owns the Days Inn at the Falls, and operates a number of restaurants inside its Sheraton hotel, including a Rainforest Cafe, TGI Fridays and a Starbucks.

On the Canadian side as of 2013, the family had invested about $800 million in projects over a couple of decades.

"Our ownership has proven themselves as developers that follow through with their commitments, create jobs, grow the tax base and create memorable experiences for their guests," Reeds said. "With the right state and local support this shovel ready project could become a reality for Niagara Falls in the foreseeable future aiding the downtown corridor in the synergy it deserves.  It's one thing to discuss projects and quite another to complete them and put area residents to work and draw new tourists to our destination."

The $70 million proposal calls for luxury hotel rooms and a waterpark at the site of the Sheraton at the Falls on Third Street. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

American Niagara Hospitality outlined a number of features for both proposed projects:

  • The hotel's new rooms would all be suites, which would be "oversized." "The premium suites will be themed and energetic and also will feature the hotel industry's exclusive ultra pampering 'spa suites.' "
  • The hotel would include a rooftop bar, infinity pool overlooking the casino, a celebrity restaurant and bar, along with meeting space and a fitness club.
  • The water park would have 12 slides, including the "Devil's Hole" drop slide, which would take riders through the "Aqua-drop launch capsule," where the floor drops out and a person would fall 250 feet in zero gravity into the "Devil's Hole Bowl."
  • There would be a 3,000-gallon shark tank in the oasis area of the water park called "The Reef Beach Club." Also included would be a "tropical salt water lagoon" stocked with exotic fish, two hot tubs and changing rooms.
  • Amenities in the "Devil Falls" section would include a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket and adventure course.

The company said it "looks forward to the opportunity to sit down and continue to negotiate the $70 million development" which it said would create 165 full-time jobs, add 108,000 additional room nights and generate about $6.5 million in annual tax revenue.

Two indoor water parks opened 11 years ago in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Niagara Falls hotel owner wants to add waterpark

Rainforest Cafe opens in place of dormant Falls hotel ballroom

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