The hotel boom along Buffalo’s long-ignored waterfront took another step forward Wednesday with the announcement of a second Marriott International hotel coming to Canalside.
HarborCenter Development LLC said the hotel component of its ice-rink and hospitality complex in front of First Niagara Center will carry the international lodging company’s flagship Marriott brand, capping a process that began a year ago.
The new full-service Marriott Buffalo Harbor Center hotel, scheduled to open in May 2015, will bring another 205 rooms and suites to the waterfront. That’s in addition to 415 other rooms that recently opened or are coming online downtown in the next few years.
Some critics question if Buffalo needs that many hotel rooms, and whether the new hotel projects are really viable. But advocates say Buffalo’s hotels, with an occupancy rate of 66.1 percent, already do much better than those in peer cities, and will continue to do so even with the new rooms.
So supporters say the key is to drive more visitors to Buffalo, and the new developments pose an opportunity to do so, if the right investment is made to promote tourism.
“The time is right for us,” said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership business group, and former president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. “We have the right mix of hotel properties to justify those investments. Now we have to close the deal, to get the visitors to come here.”
The new Marriott will be a major part of the $170 million multi-use hockey and entertainment project being developed downtown by the Pegula family and the Buffalo Sabres. The combined operation is expected to bring additional tourism and business to Buffalo, officials said at a news conference.
Besides the guest rooms and suites, the hotel will contain 5,000 square feet of meeting space to handle groups of up to 450 people. It also will offer a fitness center, a business center, a newsstand and a
Marriott Great Room restaurant serving three meals daily.
It it will also be the second Marriott-branded hotel in a two-block area. The former Donovan State Office Building across Scott Street is being converted by Benderson Development Co. into One Canalside, a mixed-use building that will include a 96-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel, along with the headquarters for the Phillips Lytle law firm.
Marriott executives aren’t worried. “Customers enjoy each of those brands differently. We offer a different guest experience in each of them, so we don’t anticipate an overlap between those two products,” said Kip Vreeland, chief officer for full-service franchising for Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott. “We don’t develop hotels or put a brand on hotels in markets that they can’t support and contribute to while they’re open and running.”
Additionally, the new hotel will join the Hotel @ the Lafayette’s 57 rooms, the planned 124-room Hilton Garden Inn at Hamister Group’s Tishman Building and the 138-room hotel that Ellicott Development Co. plans as part of its Carlo project at the Erie Basin Marina.
And those 620 rooms come on top of the existing Adam’s Mark Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, the Embassy Suites at the Avant, the Hampton Inn & Suites, the Comfort Suites Downtown, the Doubletree Club by Hilton, Buffalo Downtown at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the Mansion on Delaware.
However, many of the new hotels are more limited-service establishments, Gallagher-Cohen noted, so “this really adds an exciting element to give visitors a choice of a really good full-service property.”
HarborCenter President John R. Koelmel called the selection of Marriott another indication of the level of quality that the Pegulas are aiming for. The hotel will be managed by Shaner Hotels of State College, Pa., which has a long-standing relationship with Marriott.
“We are very, very proud and pleased to have both Shaner and Marriott as our partners, and to add the Marriott flag to the increasing array of lodging opportunities in downtown Buffalo for the benefit of all visitors to Canalside and the region,” Koelmel said, as the white and red Marriott banner was raised by a crane to the 20-story level.
“Shaner is one of the foremost hotel operators in the hospitality industry. The Marriott name needs no introduction. It’s one of the lodging industry’s most desired brands,” he said.
“It was clear from the beginning that Marriott was the right choice,” said Sabres Chief Development Officer Cliff Benson.
The new hotel will feature new “contemporary” styles, amenities and approaches to guest services, including redesigned guest rooms intended to appeal to younger hotel guests, who will soon become the dominant portion of both the workforce and traveler base.
Shaner is an international hotel firm that is owned by Western New York native Lance Shaner, who grew up in Bolivar, near Olean, graduated from Alfred University, and started his hotel business more than 30 years ago in Lockport. The company has assembled a team of architects, engineers and designers to “produce one of the best hotels in the Northeast,” said Plato Ghinos, Shaner president.
Shaner owns and manages more than 40 hotels in 17 states, as well as in the Bahamas and Italy, and posts $150 million in annual revenues. It’s a division of Shaner Cos., a diversified privately held company that owns and operates investments in lodging, finance, energy production and professional services. Among other ventures, it’s invested in companies involved in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in the Marcellus Shale area of Pennsylvania.
That’s the same industry in which Sabres owner Terry Pegula made his fortune. In fact, Pegula and Shaner are old friends who have known each other since both were in their 20s. That relationship, as well as Shaner’s strong and established relationship with Marriott, helped play a role in the selection of the hotel operator after some competition, Benson said.
“We are very, very proud to be associated with it and very excited,” Shaner said. “We believe that performance of this beautiful facility will exceed all expectations, and we’re honored to be associated with this project, the Pegulas and the team that is here today.”