|By Bill Michelmore, The Buffalo News,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 7, 2008 - HSBC Center in Buffalo is no longer the tallest building along the Niagara River.
A 58-story hotel under construction on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls soon will overshadow it by 20 stories -- and dwarf its nearest counterpart on the American side, the 26-story Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.
Workers already have built 52 stories of the Hilton Hotel -- and look down on the Skylon Tower and everything else in the Falls as they go about their daily business.
Even unfinished, the new tower is taller than every other building between Toronto and New York City.
When completed for next summer's tourist season, it will rival the tallest buildings in every major city within a 250-mile radius.
"This is a big deal for me. It's also a big deal for the city," said Vincent DiCosimo Sr., the patriarch of the family that owns the Hilton Hotel complex. DiCosimo-- known as "Mr. D." to just about everybody in his city -- came to Niagara Falls, Ont., from his native Italy in 1955, found work as a laborer and began his rise to the top of the construction business.
After running his own steel company, he went into the hotel business in the early 1970s.
Hospitality Hotels is led by DiCosimo; his wife, Ida; their three sons, Joe, Frank and Vince Jr.; and their daughter, Anita Filippelli.
Their new $200 million (U. S.) skyscraper, scheduled to be completed in May, will contain 500 rooms and form a second tower with the 36- story Hilton Hotel on Fallsview Boulevard, opposite the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort. A 15-story hotel in the center connects the two towers.
Ontario credited with development
Amenities in the region's tallest tower will include a nightclub on the top floor and restaurants on the first and second levels.
A 160-foot-long aqueduct with "dancing water" will span the length of the complex.
Together, the Hilton's three buildings will contain more than 1,000 hotel rooms and stand as a force on a skyline that has been an ever-changing canvas since Casino Niagara opened in 1996 as the city's first gambling casino.
The hotel business has boomed since. The Niagara Falls, Ont., area now has more than 10,000 hotel rooms, roughly three times the number on the American side.
DiCosimo and others credit that to the way the Province of Ontario set out to handle legalized gambling.
A walkway connects the Hilton complex to the Fallsview Casino Resort, with access to 374 additional hotel rooms, about 140 gaming tables and more than 3,000 slot machines owned by the province.
The walkway is more than a physical connection between the two hotels, DiCosimo explained. It is a concrete symbol of the cooperation between the province and other hotel owners in Niagara Falls, Ont., something some developers say is lacking on the New York State side.
Contrast drawn with U. S. side
When the Fallsview was proposed, the plan called for 2,000 hotel rooms, but the government, through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., restricted the number of rooms so that private hotel ventures could compete.
"The Ontario philosophy and method of doing things is that there's enough business for everyone," said Paul L. Snyder Sr., the Buffalo developer who is a partner in Falls Management Co., which runs the Fallsview.
When New York State entered into a compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians, it gave the Senecas about 50 acres of prime downtown Niagara Falls property for their casino and hotel, and anything else they want to build.
"The Senecas can do anything they want without any restrictions," Snyder said. "They built a fort in Niagara Falls with little or no spinoff development."
The hotel industry on the New York side is undergoing a small-scale renaissance, said John Percy, president of Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.
"There's no doubt the number of visitors to the New York side is rising and there is a growing demand for more hotel rooms," he said.
The American side of Niagara Falls has 3,400 hotel and motel rooms, including the 600 in the Seneca hotel, and the number is growing.
Half a dozen hotels are undergoing renovations, including a $25 million makeover for the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Third Street, the largest nongambling tourism development in the city in 30 years.
Buffalo developer Carl Paladino is moving ahead on his extensive renovation of the 20-story art deco United Office Building -- the tallest building in downtown Niagara Falls, N. Y., until the Seneca hotel opened three years ago.
Paladino has changed the name of the building to the Giacomo, after one of his uncles, and will open a boutique hotel on the first six floors early next year.
He has completed 24 luxury apartments on the upper floors, with an observation lounge planned on the 19th floor.
DiCienzo family raises challenge
Opposite the Giaccomo, a Houston-based company has bought the currently empty Hotel Niagara, for many years a first-class establishment with an international reputation. Plans call for a $15 million restoration of the 84-year-old landmark.
Dino DiCienzo Jr., head of another prominent family in the hotel business on the Ontario side of the border, said hotel occupancy on the New York side is up more than 25 percent over the past two years.
DiCienzo owns the Days Inn in downtown Niagara Falls, N. Y., and plans to spend $4 million next year renovating and expanding the Main Street lodging.
On the Ontario side, the DiCienzos' holdings include the Sheraton on the Falls, the former Sheraton Brock Hotel -- now called the Crowne Plaza -- and the Hard Rock Cafe.
"We work both sides of the border," DiCienzo said. "We like it over there."
Still, the DiCienzo family has a greater taste for the Canadian side. That means the DiCosimos might have a short reign at the top of the hotel tower trade.
The DiCienzos plan to build the Rainbow Hotel, a 59-story hotel on Falls Avenue, next to the Hard Rock Cafe. Construction is scheduled to start next year.
In poker parlance, DiCienzo saw DiCosimo's 58-story hotel and raised him a floor.
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