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Incentives keep flowing to Sheraton Niagara Falls water park project

The owners of the Sheraton at the Falls hotel in Niagara Falls have been shut out of state incentives for their $20 million water park project, but local agencies are not holding back.

The Niagara Daredevil Waterpark was awarded a $1 million grant Wednesday from the newly created Tourism Target Zone Fund, overseen by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

That's the same agency that granted the project a 12-year package of tax breaks last month, valued at $6.6 million.

Next week, the Niagara County Legislature is expected to vote on a low-cost hydropower allocation for the project.

Empire State Development, a state agency, has declined to assist the DiCienzo family, owners of the Sheraton, with the water park. The state agency chose Uniland Development to create a competing water park, to be called Wonder Falls, nearby at the former Rainbow Center Mall.

The DiCienzo family already operates a water park atop a parking garage that serves two hotels the family owns in Niagara Falls, Ont. NFNY Hotel Management, the DiCienzos' U.S. company, intends to construct Niagara Daredevil next to the Sheraton, on a now-vacant lot the company is to buy from the city for $189,262.

DiCienzo said the project is to be completed by the end of 2019. It will create an estimated 25 full-time and 35 part-time jobs in what is projected as a year-round attraction.

On Sept. 25, NFC Development Corp., the City of Niagara Falls' economic development agency, approved a $300,000 grant to Niagara Daredevil.

NFNY Hotel Management had asked for $3 million from the tourism fund, which would have depleted it. The state-funded account, created in June, is meant to assist new businesses within 2 miles of Seneca Niagara Casino.

NCIDA counsel Mark J. Gabriele said the fund's rules limit it to paying for 5 percent of a project, and the money is paid only to reimburse actual costs.

"Not a dime until the project is done," he said.

NCIDA board member Joan G. Aul voted against the grant.

"We're giving one-third of the fund to a project that would get done without our fund," Aul said.

"Absolutely not. If we didn't need assistance, it would be built (already)," owner Michael DiCienzo said.

He said he's just filed his third application for aid from Empire State Development, seeking a $2 million grant for the water park.

"It's never too late to do the right thing," he said.

DiCienzo said he also intends to seek incentives from the New York Power Authority.

Also Wednesday, the NCIDA board chipped in for another Niagara Falls project backed by the city: a microbrewery and 10 market-rate apartments in what are now vacant buildings at 320-324 Niagara St.

The board tapped the target zone fund for $155,000 for the 7,500-square-foot brewery, to be operated by Community Beer Works, on the ground floor of the buildings. It's the first brewery in the Falls in at least 75 years, and is projected to create nine full-time and nine part-time jobs.

The apartments will be placed on the two upper floors.

The city previously provided two grants totaling $200,000 toward the $3.4 million project by Savarino Cos. and Buffalove Development.

Construction is scheduled to begin in January and be completed by July.

The NCIDA board also approved $50,000 from the fund for Merani Hotel Group's $1 million proposal to build an outdoor ice rink at Rainbow Boulevard and First Street. During the summer, the hotelier intends to make the lot a staging area for hot air balloon rides and outdoor movies.

Merani Hotel responded to a city request for proposals for a vendor to offer skating and other recreational opportunities on that lot. Susan C. Langdon, NCIDA project manager, said the city has not yet awarded the bid to Merani, but negotiations are ongoing.

The tourism target fund also will allocate $37,666 toward a $113,000 feasibility study, to be completed by Nov. 30, regarding construction of a new arena and convention and concert venue in downtown Niagara Falls. The County Legislature and the City Council previously approved matching amounts for the study.

The proposed new multiuse facility would offer some of the same uses as the former convention center, which was converted into the Seneca Niagara Casino in 2002.

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