NIAGARA FALLS – While the City Council majority says talks are progressing about a proposed $25.3 million downtown development project, Mayor Paul A. Dyster on Tuesday said the three city lawmakers are, at best, stalling.
The three-member majority tabled a proposed deal with the Hamister Group in July, an agreement that calls for a mixed-use development to move forward on a key downtown parcel now used as a parking lot.
On Tuesday, members of the majority – Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian, Samuel F. Fruscione and Robert A. Anderson – outlined discussions about the terms of the deal that happened during the Council’s August recess.
Choolokian and Fruscione have been working with Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson, and had a meeting with Sam Hoyt, the regional head of Empire State Development, and Christopher J. Schoepflin, the head of USA Niagara Development, in mid-August.
The sides have exchanged memos, starting with the Council majority providing a list of 10 concerns. “Things are progressing,” Fruscione said.
But Dyster, often at odds with the majority, offered a different version.
“It seems to me as quickly as one objection can be answered, another objection is raised,” Dyster said after Tuesday night’s Council meeting.
At the very best, Dyster said, it suggests the Council is attempting to stall the project.
“I don’t know if that’s for some political reason or they’re hoping if they attack the developer enough that they’ll drop out,” Dyster continued. “Why you would want to do that?”
Late Tuesday, Fruscione said the Council is not stalling, but “working diligently” on two major projects – this downtown proposal and a rat problem in a section of LaSalle.
Fruscione added that he believes Dyster and the other two Council members – Kristen M. Grandinetti and Charles A. Walker – are not asking the right questions.
“They’re not really doing the due diligence they’re paid to do,” he said. “I believe the majority is doing a good job.”
The Hamister Group was selected in early 2012 as the preferred developer for 310 Rainbow Blvd., a city-owned parcel received from its previous owner, developer David Cordish, as part of the deal that turned part of the former Rainbow Centre mall into Niagara County Community College’s Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
Hamister has proposed a five-story hotel, as well as apartments and retail space.
When the Council first tabled the proposed agreement, members of the majority called into question the “transparency” of the process that led to the selection of the Hamister Group, as well as the amount of money, $100,000, the city would receive in exchange for the parcel.
Fruscione said Tuesday that among the current concerns is the price of the land, but also a number of other issues.
The Council majority does not want the parcel to be eligible for benefits from the “tax-free zones” the state has proposed around college campuses, Fruscione said.
It also wants a project labor agreement that Fruscione said would “make sure locals are working.”
The majority also wants there to be no renewal of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement after its initial 10 years. Such an agreement is expected to be sought by Hamister, but has not officially been granted by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
Dyster said he believes the Council is essentially trying to write the development agreement, whereas the general terms of the agreement are usually affirmed by the body, who give the mayor permission to sign a deal.
Dyster also said he believes state officials have already gotten answers to their main inquiries.
“They’re free to keep asking questions if they didn’t understand the answer that they got,” Dyster said.