NIAGARA FALLS - The local politicians in Niagara Falls have refused to vote so far on a hotel development project estimated to bring millions of dollars in revenue to the downtown area.
So the big boys are stepping in.
"It makes no sense," Sen. Charles Schumer said on Thursday, reached via satellite from his office in Washington. "I will be urging all parties to allow this to happen."
So will Congressman Brian Higgins.
"It's absolutely essential to the revitalization of downtown," Higgins said.
Except Schumer and Higgins, for all their power as members of U.S. Congress, don't have any direct control over this situation. The council majority in Niagara Falls, led by chairperson Glenn Choolokia, have changed their mind in recent weeks on a $25 million development project by Mark Hamister. After originally agreeing to sell Hamister a plot of land for $100,000 in exchange for an area to build his hotel, Choolokia and two other council members now claim they've learned the land is worth much more-- and they've voted to table the project because they want to sell the plot for a higher price.
They say the land is worth up to $2 million, even though 2 On Your Side's Dave McKinley reports the assessor's office lists it as less than $250,000. It is currently a parking lot, and the city received the land as a gift.
"I do not renegotiate deals," Hamister said.
Hamister said he doesn't think the land is worth $2 million, but he also says that's not the point.
"If they want even three or four hundred thousand dollars for the land, I am history," Hamister said. "I will withdraw. That is not the deal I proposed, and most importantly, that is not the deal I negotiated in good faith."
The council won't meet again until after the summer, leaving Schumer and Higgins time to wield their influence in Niagara Falls if they so choose. Schumer said he would work with Mayor Paul Dyster to move the project forward, and Higgins said he'd reach out to council members and Hamister.
"We have to get over whatever obstacles are out there," Higgins said. "There hasn't been a developer in a long time."
Both legislators cited this situation as another example in Niagara Falls' history of disfunction. Infamous for its regressing economy of the past several decades, Schumer called the hotel plan a potential "shot in the arm" for the city.
"In Niagara Falls, everybody has always had a reason to say, 'no.' What about a reason to say 'yes'?" Schumer said. "If it creates jobs and moves forward the development of downtown Niagara Falls, we oughta move forward."
The three Niagara Falls City Council members who voted to table the hotel land deal are not talking.
Channel 2 called Glenn Choolokian's cell and office numbers and left voicemails and never heard back. We also called Sam Fruscione's cell, left a voicemail and never heard back. And, while we got a hold of Robert Anderson on the phone, he told us he was caring for his mother and couldn't speak with us.
Since they wouldn't talk with us, we asked State Senator George Maziarz if he has talked with them since Wednesday night's vote, and he has not.
"Do you think that the council is making a mistake by tabling the vote?"
"I think there could've been much better communication when we were at the 10 yard line. I don't know why in Niagara Falls it always seems to me that all of the questions are asked when we get to the 99 yard line," says Maziarz.
But, Maziarz has spoken with Mayor Dyster.
"I thought it was very positive. I thought quite frankly everybody wants to see this thing get done. Everyone has questions and concerns. I think the city officials, all the city officials, could have handled it much better at the beginning of the process. I think in the end, Mr. Hamister is very interested in the City of Niagara Falls," says Maziarz.
"Do you fear he could take his business elsewhere?" asked Channel 2's Kelly Dudzik.
"I fear that very much. Now again my conversations with him today I would describe as being very positive and I do intend on reaching out to the city officials and try to bridge the gap if you will whatever. Just try to get everyone on the same page," says Maziarz.
"They have the month of August off. Do you think that clearer heads will prevail when everyone comes back and meets after the summer?" asked Dudzik.
"I do. I am very confident that clearer heads are going to prevail, and we will get this project done," asked Dudzik.