|By Mark Scheer, Niagara Gazette, Niagara
Falls, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 04, 2012--NIAGARA FALLS -- Hamilton, Ontario developer Harry Stinson has big plans for the old Hotel Niagara.
Stinson, who acquired the rights to the vacant Rainbow Boulevard property in October, said he's now planning to invest at least $20 million in the acquisition and redevelopment of the site.
He said his goal is to refurbish and re-open the building as a hotel that would cater to customers year-round.
His design team has created a plan that he believes will take advantage of the building's character and history, while adding a few modern elements and a new wrinkle or two, including a glass-enclosed, rooftop meeting and banquet facility.
"The overall vision it established -- restore the building to what it used to be in the 20s and 30s," Stinson said. "We want to do the building properly."
Stinson attempted to purchase the property during an auction last April, but lost out to the high bidder, Vancouver developer Jamal Kara who paid $1.25 million for the property. He later brokered a deal to buy the building from Kara. Stinson and members of his design team visited the Falls this week to make a presentation to Mayor Paul Dyster and officials from the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp.
"He did bring in a very impressive team and he obviously put a huge amount of effort into further developing the hotel," Dyster said.
Stinson pursued the Hotel Niagara because he believes it has the potential to not only be a world-class hotel, but a genuine destination in downtown Niagara Falls. He wants to restore the property's luster so visitors get a sense of the style the building had years ago when it was considered one the premiere hotels in the city. He envisions the finished product having roughly 200 hotel rooms as well as some suites. He said it will operate as a unique, stand-alone facility and will not be attached to any hotel chain. Stinson said he believes the new rooftop banquet and meeting area, a new pool and spa in the basement and other improvements will help restore the "wow" factor to the site, making it "the place" to have an overnight stay or weddings, conferences and other get-togethers.
"We're not going to sit there and rely on summer tourism," Stinson said. "The intention is to build this as a meeting and event destination year round using the character of the building."
Often referred to as the "condo king" of Toronto, Stinson has a background in redevelopment. His highest profile project to date is 1 King West, a 51-story combination hotel and condominium tower that he calls the "narrowest building in the world" due to its height-to-footprint ratio. He is currently working on a project to convert an historic Hamilton structure known as the Stinson School into 66 condo units.
Stinson's company has some work ahead of it at the Hotel Niagara. The building has been empty for many years. Its previous owner, Amidee Hotel Niagara never completed a renovation effort it started after purchasing the property in 2007. Last January, the property was purchased by the State Bank of Texas through a foreclosure process for $1 million. Kara bought it at a follow-up auction involving a total of 10 bidders, including Stinson.
The developer's renovation plans call for the restoration of all lower level windows and the replacement of windows on the upper floors. While he will be looking to preserve the "grand old style" of the hallways and lobby, Stinson said the rooms will have a "very modern and sleek look." From a structural standpoint, Stinson said he has absolutely no concerns.
"It's structurally solid," Stinson said. "That thing was built like a fort."
The proposed rooftop meeting and banquet facility is an element Stinson believes will help make the new Hotel Niagara one of the most attractive places to visit on the American side of the Falls. He noted that the elevators in the building already go to the roof and said his research has uncovered old drawings of the building that suggested others had considered developing the space at the top of the structure before. He described his rooftop design as "subtle" and in keeping with the historic nature of the site.
"It will not overwhelm the building at all," Stinson said. "That top floor is going to be quite a special place."
Stinson said he toured the building with representatives from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on Thursday and will be looking to obtain historic preservation tax credits available through the agency for his project. He said he's hoping to have all the necessary approvals in place and the renovation work completed in time to host a Christmas Day party.
"Visually, there's a lot of mess inside, but to me this building is a no-brainer," Stinson said.
City and state officials have been in talks with Stinson about possible public assistance for his project. Local economic development officials have previously said that incentives may be available for the right project at the Hotel Niagara, which is regarded as a key property in the downtown landscape. Dyster said those talks are ongoing.
"I think everyone who was at the meeting was very impressed by the amount of work that had been done since we last met and we are continuing to work with him," Dyster said.
(c)2012 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)
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