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Unfinished 'zombie' hotel haunts Sweet Home Road in Amherst

If you visit Hotels.com or Orbitz, you can book a room at a Maplewood Suites Extended Stay hotel in Amherst that features a free buffet breakfast every weekday, kitchenettes and wireless internet in all 127 rooms and an indoor pool with steam room and spa tub.

But if you drive out to 1265 Sweet Home Road you'll see guests aren't getting their complimentary waffles and eggs – or anything else – anytime soon.

Crews have completed and closed off the shell of the six-story building, but construction on the project stopped weeks ago. And 14 subcontractors have filed claims since January saying they are owed a combined $2.5 million for work performed on the project, according to Erie County Clerk's Office records.

"Everybody who got involved in this, they remain unpaid," said John J. Lavin, a Buffalo attorney who represents Murray Roofing.

Brothers Sam and Jas Johal, business owners in Ontario, were developing the hotel and own the property through a limited liability company. Sam Johal did not respond to a message seeking comment this week.

Hayes Construction Services is the general contractor. Co-owner Mindy Hayes declined comment, but a company official emailed subcontractors in early February to say Hayes was walking away from the project because it doubted Sweet Home Hotels' ability to pay, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Buffalo News.

It's not clear when – or if – construction will resume at the site, where a chain-link fence rings the property and "No Trespassing" signs warn away the public.

"The Sweet Home Road corridor that connects to the University at Buffalo is seeing continuous investment. If current ownership can't execute the project, I'm certain somebody else will want to finish it," Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa said in a text message.

This is the second time construction has begun, and stopped, on the Johals' hotel, according to town officials and public records. The high-profile site is near the UB North Campus and across from Bevilacqua Development's University Place development of luxury apartments and retail businesses and Ellicott Development's Staybridge Suites hotel.

The Johals bought the property through their Sweet Home Hotels LLC in 2007 and hired Patrick Construction Management of East Amherst to oversee the building of a Hyatt Summerfield Suites.

Patrick began work in September 2008 but stopped in April 2009, according to a mechanic's lien the company filed in July 2009. Patrick said Sweet Home Hotels owed the company $483,867 for unpaid labor and materials on the project.

In all, four companies filed mechanic's liens totaling $1.1 million for the period between late summer 2008 and spring 2009, documents show. It's not clear whether Sweet Home Hotels paid off any or all of those liens before reviving its plans in 2015.

That's when the company received approval from the town to build a Hyatt House hotel on the site.

Work on the latest version of the hotel began in November 2016, according to a Facebook post from the Johals' Pride Development Group, which refers to Amherst as a "city."

The 86,000-square-foot hotel, Sam Johal said in the statement, “will bring additional good-paying, entry-level jobs to the city of Amherst, and provide extended-stay suite accommodations with a level of sophistication not previously available in the area.”

Up...Up...AND AWAY . The new Maplewood Suites Extended Stay is on its way in Amherst, NY. #MaplewoodSuitesExtendedStayhotel

Posted by Pride Development Group Ltd. on Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pride Development regularly posted progress updates on Facebook, most recently in November 2017, when it wrote, "Up ... Up ... AND AWAY. The new Maplewood Suites Extended Stay is on its way in Amherst, NY."

But by this spring, construction had stopped. The building shell is up, windows were installed on most of the upper floors, and openings on the first floor were boarded up or covered in plastic.

Brian P. Andrzejewski, the Amherst building commissioner, couldn't say precisely when construction stopped for good but said his department's inspections at the site ended last month.

"Work has ceased, the site is secured, and we are monitoring it," he told The News.

Hayes sent its email to the subcontractors back on Feb. 2.

"Hayes Construction Services has made the choice to no longer be a part of 1265 Sweet Home due to failure by owner to demonstrate proof of financing for the project, despite many months and requests," wrote James Wacker, the company's senior project manager.

Fourteen subcontractors filed mechanic's liens between Jan. 22 and April 20. The amounts range from Frey Electric Construction Co. seeking $819,796 to United Thermal Systems seeking $8,020.

Gypsum Services, which said it is owed $349,926, performed interior framing and set the exterior windows. President Anthony Adinolfe said after Hayes bowed out, the Johals tried to convince the subcontractors at a restaurant meeting to stay on the job. Adinolfe said he and the other companies weren't satisfied the property owner had the financial ability to continue the work.

Adinolfe said he's already paid his suppliers and workers but now is awaiting repayment from Hayes and Sweet Home Hotels.

"It's unusual for this many people to file claims on a job of this size," he said.

Murray Roofing agreed to install a roof on the building for $153,000 and said it finished work on Jan. 12. The company filed a mechanic's lien for $140,000 later that month, and in March moved in Erie County Court to foreclose on the lien.

Lavin, Murray's attorney, said he doesn't know whether Sweet Home Hotels, or Hayes – or both – ran into financial issues on the project.

"We'll find out once we get into the litigation," he said.

Lavin said Murray will seek the sale of the property at foreclosure and will ask a judge to share the proceeds of the sale with the unpaid subcontractors.

The Maplewood Suites at 1265 Sweet Home Road is listed on Hotels.com and other travel sites.

The travel sites show pictures of what the Maplewood Suites hotel purportedly looks like, on the inside and the outside. However, while the pages have an extensive list of amenities for the hotel, they have no customer reviews and don't include a phone number for the hotel.

Sweet Home Hotels also owes $17,417 in unpaid 2017 county, town and special district taxes on 1265 Sweet Home, according to county records.

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