NIAGARA FALLS – Plans for a new downtown hotel took another step forward last week with an approval from City Hall, though questions popped up from neighbors about what the project will look like.
The Strangio family’s proposal for a four-story, 110-room Wingate by Wyndham Hotel at Rainbow Boulevard and Fourth Street was met with some hesitation by a few neighbors at a meeting of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
After a lengthy discussion, the board granted a variance to Plati Niagara, a holding company created by Antonio, Frank and Anthony Strangio. The family owns Antonio’s Banquet & Conference Center and a Quality Inn at 7708 Niagara Falls Blvd.
They had asked to be allowed to have 110 parking spaces at what is now a vacant downtown site, more than the 68 permitted under city code.
“One of the critical components to our project, in our opinion, is parking,” Frank Strangio told the board. Not being able to have one parking spot per hotel room “could stall the project,” Strangio said.
What the Zoning Board decision means for the project is that architects can move forward and complete final drawings, which must be approved by the city Planning Board before construction can begin.
Strangio withdrew a request for another variance, which sought to reduce a required buffer area on the west side of the property from 10 feet to 5 feet.
The owner of the neighboring parcel, Ralph Guetta, told the Zoning Board he was concerned that cars being allowed to park closer to his property would increase the amount of exhaust that enters through the windows.
After some discussion, Strangio withdrew the variance request but said he may ask for it again at a later date.
Perry Jost, who runs the Elizabeth House Bed and Breakfast at 327 Buffalo Ave., said he was concerned about what effect the new hotel might have on the Buffalo Avenue Heritage District.
“What we’re going to be looking at is a giant back of your hotel and possibly a wall and a parking lot,” Jost said.
While he’s not opposed to the project, Jost said, he hopes there is landscaping that can mitigate any imposition by the hotel.
Strangio said he plans to sit down with all of his neighbors and talk about the plans with them, in the end making it a better and more attractive project for the area.
“We want to work with our neighbors,” Strangio said.
Plati Niagara purchased the 1.82-acre parcel in December from Frank Deni and JFD Holdings for $1.1 million, according to records in the Niagara County Clerk’s Office.
Strangio said that, ideally, the project would break ground this fall and be completed by early 2015.
Plans for the hotel include a 4,000-square-foot retail space on the ground floor, which the Strangios hope will become a chain restaurant, though no agreement has been finalized with a tenant. Under the existing designs, the main entrance to the hotel would be on Fourth Street, while the restaurant entrance would sit on the Rainbow Boulevard side.
The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency earlier this month granted Plati Niagara a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement. That deal includes a mortgage recording tax exemption, as well as a sales tax exemption for building materials, furnishings and equipment for the hotel.
In total, the deal comes with an estimated savings of about $1.5 million. The project is estimated to bring in 25 to 30 full-time jobs.