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Hotels for everyone

Back in March, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency slammed the brakes on giving tax breaks to hotel projects following the uproar sparked by its handouts for a remodeling of the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga.

The critics rightly questioned the economic value of doling out tax incentives for what should be the normal cost of doing business for an existing hotel - replacing furnishings, carpeting and the like.

So the IDA went back to the drawing board to revise its policy on hotel tax breaks. In July, working on its own and without consulting the five other suburban IDAs in Erie County, the Erie County IDA came up with a new proposal. That proposed policy would that would limit incentives to only hotels that are built or renovated in conjunction with a convention center, conference center or a major regional attraction. It also would permit aid to hotel projects that meet the IDA's adaptive-reuse policy, which encourages renovation of vacant buildings.

The adaptive reuse clause was a significant loophole, because it opens the door to hotels in any site that reuses an existing building that's been vacant for a few years.

But that didn't satisfy the suburban IDAs, who within the last month met with IDA officials. They wanted more flexibility, and they managed to get an extra phrase added into the policy the Erie County IDA approved on Wednesday that allowed projects that were part of a neighborhood enhancement area.

Now that's a loophole! In Amherst, much of the town's prime commercial property is part of an enhancement zone. Want to build or renovate a hotel on Sheridan Drive between Niagara Falls Boulevard and the Youngmann Expressway? You're in, because it's part of an enhancement zone.

Want to build a hotel or renovate one on the west side of Transit Road, between the Thruway and Main Street? There likely will be some tax breaks waiting for you, because it's part of an enhancement zone.

Think there's a market for another hotel along Main Street. Pick the right spot and you'll be in line for some hefty tax savings, because wide swatches of Main Street are part of an enhancement zone.

So much for the crackdown.

- David Robinson



Natural gas prices too low?

From Business Today:


With natural gas prices dropping near a 10-year low, National Fuel Gas Co. has decided to pull back on plans to drill in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania until prices come back up. It's the second time it has scaled back in two months. Its natural gas production is still expected to increase significantly during the next fiscal year, and scaling back on this drilling should only have a "modest" effect on production, the Amherst-based company said. Natural gas prices are down 54 percent since June, to $2.25 per 1,000 cubic feet.


The Erie County Industrial Development Agency has put a moratorium on considering hotel renovation projects for tax breaks, but that didn't keep it from approving $275,000 in breaks for a project that fell outside the moratorium. The ECIDA Monday approved sales tax breaks on a $5.5 million renovation project at Cheektowaga's Millennium Hotel. Because the hotel qualified for the breaks under the agency's current guidelines, it decided to approve the breaks rather than risk a lawsuit from the hotel.


You'll soon notice a difference in Canadian currency the next time you cross the border. The money has undergone a redesign to make it more durable and secure and to prevent counterfeiting and fraud. $100 and $50 bills have already gone into circulation, $20 bills will come out later this year, and $10 and $5 bills are due by the end of 2013.


The ECIDA board was taken to task Monday for approving the controversial tax breaks on the Millennium Hotel. Just after the approval, members of the Occupy Buffalo activist group began vocally protesting the board's actions. The board's new chairman, retired Rep. John J. LaFalce, yelled at the protesters and told them they would no longer be able to attend such meetings. Public comment isn't allowed during the ECIDA's monthly board meetings--only during public hearings.


An advertising agency with offices in Buffalo has been recognized by its industry's premier publication. Advertising Age magazine ranked Eric Mower and Associates the 5th best place to work in its 2012 rankings. Winners were chosen through a rigorous process that included surveying employers and employees.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

 It's a great day for the Moody Blues:


Car sales are up, Wilmers scolds bank regulators, Travers Collins & Co. splits, and ECIDA doles out tax breaks

From Business Today:


Car sales are up in the region. Local new car sales rose 10 percent last month over August 2010. In fact, August saw the region's second-best totals of the year with sales of 4,919 for the month. Ford had the leading sales, selling 1,106 vehicles. That's up 22 percent from a year ago. Toyota's sales came in second, but were down 32 percent from last year. In third place was Nissan, with a 52 percent increase, according to data from the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association.


 M&T Bank chairman and CEO Robert Wilmers spoke at a regulatory symposium sponsored by American Banker Monday. In his opinion, the financial reform law goes too far in some ways but not far enough in others. Worse, it will do nothing to prevent a future financial crisis.

Wilmers said the regulations fail to reform credit-rating agencies, government mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and risky bank activity.


 Travers Collins & Co. lost its entire investor relations team, three additional staffers and a slew of clients over the weekend when Lynn Casteel and Jeff Schoenborn left the advertising agency abruptly to set up shop on Wehrle Drive in Amherst. Casteel and Schoenborn said they decided to start their own competing investor relations firm after being "consistently rebuffed" by Travers Collins' owners when it came to business recommendations, improvement suggestions and offers to buy into the firm's ownership.

Owner William Collins criticized the way they handled the split in a letter to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. He said they never raised concerns, moved out secretly and quietly notified clients in advance. The team owed its success to Travers Collins, he said, which gave three of the individuals their first job and gave them all the tools to succeed. There were no non-compete clauses binding, so Travers Collins has no recourse to take in regards to the lost clients, but the owners said they would rebuild the firm's investor relations business.


A study of border crossings has recommendations for improving things at our Canadian border. The study by the Binational Economic and Tourism Alliance recommends that getting better information out about border crossing status along with adding workers during the bridges' busiest times would ease congestion. Better signage to navigate the borders would help, too, as would better planning around special events, the report said.


An abandoned Pizza Hut in South Buffalo will become a Dollar General store, with help from a nearly $49,000 tax break from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. It made an exception to its "no retail" policy because the property has sat vacant for so long.

The IDA also approved $583,000 in breaks for Gemcor II, a West Seneca automatic fastening equipment maker, to build a $3.1 million addition. Sleep Inn Buffalo Airport in Cheektowaga got $38,000 in sales tax breaks for a $550,000 renovation.


Perry's Ice Cream got an $800,000 low-interest loan from the Buffalo and Erie County Regional Development Council. Perry's is spending $6.4 million to increase its distribution and to begin distrubting snacks by other makers, including Little Debbie.



Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

This couple didn't know their camera was on, and couldn't figure out why they couldn't get it to record:


Capital One buys HSBC card business, Lord Amherst Hotel sells, LIDS acquires Buffalo's Rally Jungle and Vision Airlines ends service in Niagara Falls

From Business Today:


HSBC has found a buyer for its U.S. credit card business. Capital One Financial Corp. will buy $29.6 billion in loans from HSBC Holdings plc for about $2.6 billion. About 140 workers here are affected by the deal, but have been offered jobs with Capital One. They are mostly in the card fraud prevention and investigations department. The sale does not include the $1.1 billion credit card business of HSBC Bank USA.


A well-known property in Snyder is expected to be sold next month. Williamsville-based Iskalo Development is in the process of buying the Lord Amherst Hotel, which is currently owned by the Genrich family. Both the seller and buyer are remaining mum on the details, but family member Willa Long said the hotel is successful and not losing money. The 95-room hotel, located at 5000 Main St., was built in 1960. The property also includes the Sonoma Grill restaurant next door to the hotel.


A national sporting goods dealer just acquired a Buffalo company. LIDS, which has nearly 1,000 retail locations nationwide, bought Rally Jungle, which makes corporate, team and charity-branded sportswear. Rally jungle has a unique merchandising model, in which it creates social media Web pages for organizations to sell custom-made apparel for fundraising purposes. The company was founded by John DeWaal, a former vice president at New Era Cap Co.


Vision Airlines is ending its service out of the Niagara Falls International Airport. It began offering service last December with twice weekly flights to Destin/Fort Walton Beach in Florida. Of the three airlines working out of the airport, it had the fewest number of flights and offered the least service, officials said.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Statler threatened. Jeweler closes. Medical building to rise.

    Buffalo. Can't figure out to do with what was once a major hotel. Losing a long-time downtown business. But can't keep up with the demand for more medical facilities.

Statler buyers face Monday deadline - The Buffalo News
   Six days and counting.
   That's how much time U.S. Bankruptcy Court has given Mark D. Croce and James J. Eagan to conclude a $700,000 sale agreement to purchase the embattled Statler Towers on the northeast corner of Niagara Square.
   That's also how much time remains for government to help save the iconic Statler and make its future redevelopment viable, Croce told The Buffalo News in discussing his plans publicly for the first time Tuesday.
   If a deal isn't completed, preservationists warn, the 18-story Statler will be heading toward demolition.
   "Our plan is to re-energize the first two floors and effectively stabilize the property to take the time to come up with an organic future redevelopment plan that will allow the building to grow as the market will bear," Croce said.
   But the historic 800,000-square-foot 1923 structure -- once the largest in adopted Buffalonian Ellsworth M. Statler's hotel chain -- needs government funding, too, Croce said. ...

96-year downtown landmark closing shop - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   After 96 years in business in downtown Buffalo, Weisberg Jewelers is preparing to close its doors. Weisberg
   The business plans to end its nearly centurylong run in January after going through one final holiday shopping season, said Edward G. Wicks [right], the president....
   In 1914, the year that Weisberg Jewelers was founded, Woodrow Wilson was president, World War I was beginning, and the Boston Braves won the World Series.
   Weisberg Jewelers at one time had multiple locations. For decades, its store was a fixture of the Main Place Mall before moving to its present home at 11 Court St. about nine years ago. The store has four employees. ...
   [I was on a bus a few months ago and the driver was calling out the stops. At one point, she said, "Main Place Mall. The mall without any stores." It wasn't completely accurate. But more so than it used to be.] 

Medical complex eyed at Main, High streets - Brian Meyer/The Buffalo News
   Plans to build an $80 million medical complex at Main and High streets on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus were unveiled Tuesday in City Hall.
   “This is really the first privately held investment of this size on the medical campus,” Timothy Vaeth, a vice president at Ciminelli Real Estate, told members of the city Planning Board. ...
   One large tenant will be Kaleida Health, which plans to locate an outpatient surgery center in the building. There also will likely be an imaging center, laboratory space and medical offices. ...
   The ambulatory surgery center that Kaleida is planning would fill about one-fifth of the space in the structure. The surgery facility is viewed as the first step toward the eventual move of Women and Children’s Hospital from its Bryant Street location to the medical campus. ...

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Checking in on our hotels

   Lotta Buffalo News about Buffalo hotels:

- Investor from L.A. may bid on Statler - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   Competition to buy the Statler Towers is heating up.
   My Dynasty Real Estate Investments LLC, a Los Angeles-based investor, is preparing to submit a bid for the Niagara Square property in downtown Buffalo, said Richard J. Sterben, a Williamsville real estate broker.
    That would mean a second suitor for the Statler, which was mothballed in January. Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Carl L. Bucki scheduled the Statler sale for Aug. 30.
   Local businessmen Mark D. Croce and James J. Eagan already have submitted an offer totaling $700,000 -- $200,000 for the property, plus the assumption of an estimated $500,000 in outstanding taxes.
   Sterben said his client, whom he declined to identify, will bid $250,000 and assume the unpaid taxes, bringing the total value to about $750,000.
   Sterben said his client is negotiating with John Ferchill, a Cleveland-based developer, to serve as preferred developer on the Statler project.
   Ferchill guided the revival of a long-dormant, Statler-like property in Detroit called Westin-Book Cadillac. The investor represented by Sterben proposes a mixed-use redevelopment for the Statler, consisting of apartments, hotel rooms and office space. The project probably would cost $85 million to $100 million, he said.

Adam’s Mark gets sales tax breaks - David Robinson/The Buffalo News 
  The owners of Adam’s Mark Hotel [map] in Buffalo are getting $470,000 in sales tax breaks through the Adamsmark Erie County Industrial Development Agency for the second stage of its upgrade project for the downtown hotel.
   WNY Lodging, which acquired Adam’s Mark last year, plans to spend $5.6 million to replace the carpeting, wallpaper and furniture in all of the hotel’s 486 guest rooms and corridors, as well as install new light fixtures. ...
   The improvements are part of a series of changes that were required for WNY Lodging to obtain a Crowne Plaza franchise for the hotel. ...
   The IDA also approved $816,000 in tax breaks for Anderson Equipment Co., which is moving its construction equipment distribution business from Great Arrow Drive in Buffalo to the former Syracuse Supply building in the Town of Tonawanda.

- Lodging demand is high near cities, low in rural areas - Bloomberg News/The Buffalo News
   ... The Buffalo hotel market has enjoyed occupancy rates above the national average, though far short of those found in major cities, according to Smith Travel Report statistics provided by the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau.  

    Just as long as it doesn't look like this:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News