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DoubleTree owners plan Holiday Inn Express in downtown Niagara Falls

The Merani Hotel Group plans to add a 68-room Holiday Inn Express to its plan for apartments and eateries on Buffalo Avenue in downtown Niagara Falls.

In April, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency granted the Merani Group sales tax exemptions on building materials and furnishings for a new four-story building at 402 Buffalo Ave., across the street from the company's DoubleTree hotel. The building was supposed to cost $11.5 million and include 39 market-rate apartments on the upper three floors, with commercial space on the ground floor for a Tim Hortons, a Circle K convenience store and a Jersey Mike's submarine sandwich shop.

But now, instead of a new four-story building, the company plans to erect two five-story structures, one containing the Holiday Inn Express and the other containing the 36 apartments, Tim Hortons and Circle K.

Jersey Mike's is out of the picture.

"The scope of the project has changed," said Michael Marsch, vice president of operations at Merani, at the NCIDA board meeting Wednesday.

"Our goal for the project is to make maximum use of the space," Marsch said.

The site, which has undergone a brownfield cleanup, is vacant. It once housed Nabisco Shredded Wheat's corporate offices and was the original location of Niagara County Community College.

The price of the project is now estimated at $22.5 million, and 10 years of property tax and sales tax breaks and abatements would save the company more than $2.5 million, the NCIDA staff estimated.

The project would provide nearly 84,000 square feet of space on a 3-acre former brownfield. It would create 27 full-time and 14 part-time jobs within three years.

NCIDA Executive Director Susan C. Langdon said Merani might seek a property tax break directly from the City of Niagara Falls instead of the NCIDA.

Marsch said the company also hopes to obtain a grant or a loan from the state's USA Niagara Development Corp.

State aid assisted Merani's DoubleTree project.

The NCIDA, which also provided incentives for the DoubleTree, voted Wednesday to allow Merani to refinance the mortgage on that hotel, but the board refused to grant Merani a mortgage recording tax exemption on the refinancing.

The refinancing would yield $3.5 million in new money, which Marsch said would be directed not only to the DoubleTree but to other projects, including the new Holiday Inn Express and upgrades to the company's two other Niagara Falls hotels, the Holiday Inn and the Four Points by Sheraton.

Also Wednesday, Plati Niagara, owners of the Wingate by Wyndham hotel, sought aid for a proposed a 120-room Cambria hotel next door at 311 Rainbow Blvd. The project was disclosed last month, when the NCIDA canceled its meeting.

Besides the seven-story hotel, Frank and Anthony Strangio's $17.8 million project includes three two-story, two-unit apartment buildings. Ten years of property, sales and mortgage tax breaks would save Plati an estimated $2.5 million.

Fifteen full-time and 20 part-time jobs are projected.

The NCIDA may vote on both hotel deals Nov. 13.

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