NIAGARA FALLS, NY – As first reported by WGRZ-TV on Monday, the state has landed a developer for the historic Hotel Niagara, a once grand 12-story structure just steps from the world famous Niagara Falls, and which has been vacant for a decade.
At a news conference on Tuesday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Syracuse based developer Ed Riley had been chosen by the state to be the preferred developer for the building, which has been a fixture of the Cataract City skyline since 1924.
Riley’s firm, Brine Wells LLC, has a track record of restoring old hotels, including the landmark Hotel Syracuse, which like the Hotel Niagara, lay dormant before he was able to renovate it.
You Need an Artist.
“To bring this place back to life, you need more than a developer. You need an artist,” said Cuomo. “And you have to be an artist to do this because the joy comes with the historic restoration and appreciating the detail and the architectural detail."
“All 130 rooms will be entirely renovated,” said Riley. “The rooms themselves have been pretty much gutted out. As far as the historic spaces are concerned, the lobby, mezzanine, and the ballroom will all go back to their original grandeur."
Ed Riley: Artist of a Deal
Besides getting himself quite a project, it appears Riley may have gotten himself quite a deal.
New York State bought the building from a previous developer last year for $4.4 million, and then sold it to Riley for just $1.
On top of that, he is expected to receive a state grant of $3.5 million, plus historic tax credits to complete the $42 million dollar project.
According to Riley, the historic tax credits in particular are essential to be able to afford to restore the once popular hotel to its former grandeur, and to do it with the detail required by preservation codes.
“The success of this project will be the attention to detail that’s put into the restoration,” he said.
Riley also received $15 million in taxpayer funds granted by the state, to complete the Hotel Syracuse.
Sleeping Giant Awakened
“This was like the sleeping giant of Niagara Falls,” said Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. President John Percy, whose office sits across the street from the Late 19th and 20th Century Revival Style structure.
After the recent construction of several new, mid-priced hotels in the downtown area, Percy believes having an historic hotel will significantly strengthen the mix of the city’s lodging portfolio.
“There are indeed visitors who specifically look for older, nostalgic property types, and now we can offer that," Percy said.
Preferred Developers, Mixed Results
Just because the state picks a preferred developer, it doesn't necessarily mean a project will be completed – or at least for a while.
It took Mark Hamister nearly five years just to begin construction of his mid-priced Hyatt Place, which still isn't finished.
And it was three years ago that Cuomo announced preferred developers for the former Rainbow Mall just across the street from where Hamister’s project is being built. However, their planned “Wonder Falls” development isn't even off the drawing board.
Undaunted and Determined
Riley says he’ll get started on the project by year’s end, and plans to have it opened in early 2019.
He seems not at all concerned by the fact that in the past ten years, several other developers have tried, and failed to breathe new life into the hotel.
“Well, I was the number five developer of the Hotel Syracuse,” he said. “In other words, there were four who tried before me and failed, and I didn't think it was that difficult to do it. I look at this hotel as being the same thing."
The Hotel Niagara once provided the finest accommodations in the Falls, attracting guests including ranging from Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra.
But beyond filling its 130 rooms with tourists, Riley says the real key will be to once again make it the most sought after destination for local residents to hold events, as it was in its heyday.
“What’s really gonna put it over the top is how the community embraces it,” said Riley.
“It’s the legacy weddings, it’s the legacy events like proms and banquets that people have had here over the years. Having them come back and experience that with their kids and grandkids and, as we say, ‘make memories’. There’s a ton of memories in that hotel, and it’s time to start to restore it and start the next generation making those memories, and that will be the ultimate success factor with it,” Riley said.