YOUNGSTOWN – Nearly three years after announcing his plans, an Amherst developer is optimistic that the state is moving forward on a public-private partnership allowing him to turn three deserted historic buildings in Fort Niagara State Park into an upscale inn.
William Huntress of Acquest Development released plans in 2010 to redevelop the site, as part of a roughly $15 million to $20 million public-private partnership with the state. Along with redeveloping the three abandoned structures built in the 1930s, he intended to build two new structures there.
As the next step in clearing the way for the plan, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is currently inviting public comment on converting 20 of Fort Niagara’s 283 acres to privately redevelop those three structures. In a required parkland swap, the state also invites comment on the addition of 140 acres of parkland to the Hudson Valley’s Bear Mountain State Park in Orange County.
Under federal law, private development of public parkland is permitted if replacement parkland of equal fair-market value is provided elsewhere.
“This is simply the next step in achieving a public-private development partnership for a project envisioned for a state park,” said Randy Simons, public information officer for the state parks. The state has completed a favorable environmental assessment of the proposed conversion.
“The state has stepped up to the plate,” said Huntress. “It has to finalize paperwork before we can get started. We’ve also been notified that they have set aside $400,000 in our consolidated funding application for the project. We’ve been told, but haven’t received the letter yet.”
Huntress added, “We have quite a few [funding] sources, but we couldn’t get our financing together until the state’s paperwork was resolved.”
Simons said, “This conversion process removes an impediment that clouded the process for the Acquest project.” He said the National Park Service would have the final say on the proposed parkland conversion, under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, while the state would eventually make the final decision on specific plans for the site.
Acquest’s plans called for converting the 1938 barracks building into a 48-room inn and turning the Commandant’s House, built in the 1930s, into 12 luxury suites; restoring the 1931 Post Theater; and creating a new restaurant and ballroom/convention center. Acquest signed a 40-year lease with the state in 2010.
Although Acquest successfully built a number of projects in Amherst, it has tangled with local officials. The company has been accused of running afoul of both town and federal laws for years relating to illegal tree-cutting, land-clearing and wetlands-tampering on two of the Amherst parcels that it has owned along Wehrle Drive and Millersport Highway.
All written comments on the proposed land conversion sent via mail or email will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday by Karen Terbush, Environmental Management Bureau, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12238, or at Karen.Terbush@parks.ny.gov. To view the environmental assessment, go to http://nysparks.com/inside-our-agency/publi-documents.aspx. Copies also are on file at the Fort Niagara State Park office.