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Niagara Falls hotel seeks IDA tax break on planned $20 million water park

The owner of the Sheraton at the Falls Hotel in Niagara Falls says he needs tax incentives to make his $20 million water park feasible.

That's why Michael DiCienzo applied to the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency for a 12-year reduction on property taxes that would be assessed on the planned 150,000-square-foot, two-story facility.

The package also would include an exemption from paying sales taxes on the building materials and the equipment and furnishings for the water park. The NCIDA staff estimated that the incentives would save DiCienzo's company $6.6 million over the 12-year period.

"There's a lot more risks with attractions. It is needed to make the project successful," DiCienzo said after the NCIDA board agreed to schedule a public hearing on his request. A vote is likely when the board meets Sept. 13.

The Niagara Daredevil Waterpark, as the hotel calls it, would operate indoors year-round in an addition to the hotel and create 30 new full-time jobs and 20 part-time jobs, according to the company's application.

The water park would be built on a vacant lot owned by the City of Niagara Falls. In October 2015, the City Council agreed to sell the land to DiCienzo's firm for $189,262. However, the city's planning director, Thomas DeSantis, said Wednesday the sale has not yet closed.

DiCienzo told the NCIDA board that Niagara Daredevil would take about a year to build.

"It's close to shovel-ready," he said.

"It's great to have a family-friendly recreational project like that," said William L. Ross, the former Niagara County Legislature chairman, who serves on the NCIDA board.

DiCienzo said his water park would give his hotel and others a chance to lure more guests in the off-season.

"The hotels are busy for 100 days," he said. "It's a fantastic attraction and it's much needed. ... It brings new people in and keeps them here longer."

The incentive application, made in the name of NFNY Hotel Management, makes no mention of a $50 million, 200-room addition to the top of the hotel, which also was part of an expansion plan NFNY unveiled May 1.

DiCienzo said that would be the second phase of the expansion project at the Sheraton. DeSantis said the city Planning Board already has given conditional approval to the hotel addition, but if the project encroaches on the city's Third Street right of way, DiCienzo would have to take the hotel addition back before the Planning Board and the Council.

When the proposal was announced, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster was unenthusiastic about the Niagara Daredevil proposal.

It would be close to another proposed water park, Uniland Development's Wonder Falls project, which is supposed to be built in the unused portion of the old Rainbow Centre Mall at Rainbow Boulevard and Niagara Street.

Uniland was chosen by USA Niagara, the local arm of Empire State Development, to reuse that property. The Niagara County Community College Culinary Institute occupies the rest of the old mall.

DiCienzo said Empire State Development has declined to offer him any incentives for his project because it would compete with Wonder Falls.

"We have been unsuccessful. It's very disappointing," DiCienzo said of his approaches to Empire State Development. "We're looking for other possibilities."

The DiCienzo family owns hotels on both sides of the international border. A water park operates on the roof of the parking garage that serves their Sheraton and Crowne Plaza hotels near Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ont.



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