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Editorial: Saving the Hotel Niagara is a worthy investment

Perhaps you can’t put a price tag on the value of restoring the Hotel Niagara to new iterations of its past glory, but the tax breaks the developer is requesting seem like a worthy down payment.

Brine Wells Development is seeking a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency. The company is also asking for an exemption from paying sales tax on building materials and furnishings, and from having to pay a mortgage recording tax. Those add up to $4.85 million over 15 years, according to the NCIDA.

It’s worth it.

The Hotel Niagara once was a crown jewel of Niagara Falls. It was built in 1924 by Frank Dudley and designed by prominent Buffalo architects Esenwein & Johnson. Guests who stayed there included Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, President John F. Kennedy, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. Whether hosting business gatherings, proms, holiday parties or wedding receptions, the glamorous hotel was the place to be seen in the Falls.

The building fell upon hard times and years of neglect as ownership changed hands many times. The 12-story hotel shut its doors in 2007 and was condemned by the Niagara Falls Department of Code Enforcement.

In March 2016, Empire State Development bought the hotel from former owner Harry Stinson for $4.4 million in Buffalo Billion money. Brine Wells, based in Syracuse, bought the hotel in 2017 for $1.

Edward M. Riley, CEO of Brine Wells, has a proven track record. Riley was behind the $76 million makeover of the old Hotel Syracuse – another gem of a hotel that had been left for dead – reopening it in 2016 as a Marriott.

Riley says the Hotel Niagara will also open under a national brand.

The developer estimates the new Hotel Niagara will employ 180 full- and part-time associates. Job creation in Niagara Falls is an essential goal for any project making use of tax breaks.

The hotel, targeted for completion in March 2020, will have 160 guest rooms. There are also plans for two restaurants, two ballrooms and a rooftop lounge.

Brine Wells has been dealing with massive deterioration of the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. That includes removal of asbestos, which is not cheap.

Anything Niagara County can reasonably do to partner with Riley and restore lost luster to the hotel that is an iconic part of the city’s skyline will pay for itself in civic enhancement.

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