State Sen. Robert Ortt said Friday a project proposal for a downtown Niagara Falls "beach and surf club," recently made eligible for millions in public funds, should be resubmitted to an oversight body for another look.
The senator's remarks follow a series of questions raised after hotelier Michael DiCienzo's presentation earlier this week to the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, which authorized his company's eligibility for a $2 million reimbursable grant to build a wave pool and artificial beach at the corner of Niagara and Third streets.
"In light of recent developments, Mr. DiCienzo should re-submit his plans for re-approval by the Cataract Tourism Fund steering committee," Ortt said in prepared statement.
The $4.6 million Cataract Tourism Fund, now largely depleted, was established last year by Ortt with pooled state Legislative budget allocations from 2016 to 2018. A committee tied to the funding makes recommendations to the IDA about projects applying for financial assistance based on their potential to enhance the Falls tourism district. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, sits on the committee.
Last month, committee members voted to recommend DiCienzo's project. During his subsequent appearance before the NCIDA Board of Directors on Wednesday, DiCienzo said the proposed $15 million project was planned for a parcel located at Third and Niagara streets in the city. DiCienzo indicated that he was preparing to "cut the check" to complete the land purchase.
DiCienzo said construction would also be aided by a $300,000 grant from the NFC Development Corp., a publicly funded economic assistance arm of the City of Niagara Falls.
Following approval of the project by members of the NCIDA board, Mayor Paul Dyster said both the 2015 land deal DiCienzo referenced and the grant funding were no longer active. He indicated that, as a result, DiCienzo's company, NFNY Hotel Management, LLC, would be required to work out a new land sale with the city and re-apply for funding through the NFC Development Corp.
Both matters were originally related to DiCienzo's prior plan to build a daredevil-themed waterpark with a series of water slides and other features. That project never came to fruition.
"The money doesn’t attach to the parcel, doesn’t attach to the idea, doesn’t attach to the individual – it attaches to the specific project," Dyster said of the grant.
In addition, a project rendering submitted by DiCienzo to the NCIDA board appeared to be a photoshopped mashup of a picture depicting the intersection of Niagara and Third streets and a multi-billion Japanese attraction known as the Seagaia Ocean Dome, which had dimensions of 300 meters by 100 meters before it was demolished in 2017.
Information submitted as part of the application to the NCIDA describes the new beach and surf club as being a a football field sized complex "complete with surfing, jumbo video screens, authentic aquatic creatures and a restaurant and bar." It is also supposed to feature a retractable domed roof and a concert venue.
Property records that the proposed site for the project offers about 43,000 square feet of space.
In response to questions from the Niagara Gazette, Susan Langdon, the NCIDA's executive, said the "grant from the Cataract Fund is a reimbursable grant, which means that if the project does not go forward, there is no grant awarded."
"Mr. DiCienzo has a 6-month window within which he has to notify us if the project will indeed move forward," she said in an email.
Neither Langdon nor other officials at the NCIDA responded to follow-up questions concerning Ortt's comment. The NCIDA's initial approval was conditioned on DiCienzo's company securing another $2 million from the state.
Dyster said Friday he supported Ortt's position on the matter.
"I also think it’s the case it would be wise for the IDA board that awards money from the cataract fund to take a closer look at this," he said.
Dyster said the city would send information regarding the issues he raised related to the grant and land deal to the IDA in the coming days.
In response to questions from the newspaper, DiCienzo's attorney, John Bartolomei, described the proposed project as "wonderful" and a thing "Niagara Falls sorely needs" and a project which will "benefit the city immensely."
"It is a project which is proposed by a capable and experienced developer and operator who does everything he says he will do and who develops and operates only first class, highest quality, tourism projects which have all been greatly successful," he said.