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Niagara highrise partners eyeing Asian clientele

Don Wall
Niagara highrise partners eyeing Asian clientele
Partners Hunter Milborne, Andrzej Kepinski, Ralph Terrio and Dan Raseta, working together as Niagara Global Development Limited, have collaborated with consultants B + H Architects, PCL and MMM Group for the Niagara Falls hotel project with the working name River Road Niagara Falls Luxury Resort. -

The architectural drawings look stunning but groundbreaking for the $500-million, 1.3-million-square-foot River Road Niagara Falls Luxury Resort project remains a couple of years away at least as the project partners continue to piece together a development plan.

The project will see a pair of luxury highrise hotels, 61 and 60 storeys tall, along with such other amenities as high-end retail and restaurants, a 25,000-square-foot spa, conference support facilities, entertainment, observation decks and even a chapel, built near downtown in the River Road, Hiram Street and Blondin Avenue district.

Partners Hunter Milborne, Andrzej Kepinski, Ralph Terrio and Dan Raseta, working together as Niagara Global Development Limited, have their eyes on an international tourist clientele with a focus on the Asian market and have consulted to incorporate feng shui elements into the five-star lodging plans.

Planning approvals may have been obtained five years ago and groundbreaking is still two or three years away, but make no mistake, said Terrio, the build is a go.

"We know it is a for-sure go-ahead at some point," he said. "Because we know Niagara Falls will always be a great place to do this type of business. So it is just a matter of time. They don’t create any more falls-view land, so we think we are well positioned for the future."

Each of the 993 hotel units envisaged in the plan will be single loaded, that is, they’ll have a view of the falls. That will be accomplished, said Terrio, by incorporating retail and other uses into the first seven or so floors, with hotel rooms starting eight floors up.

"That is why you need the height, to get as many rooms as possible with the falls view, because we are set back with almost a postcard view of the falls, you can go higher and have a nice panoramic view of the falls and the whole falls-view area," he explained.

Currently on the site, owned by the developers, is a Travelodge hotel — formerly the Michael’s Inn — and a thriving attraction, Bird Kingdom, which is said to be the world’s largest free-flying aviary. Bird Kingdom will be incorporated into the new project, Terrio said.

Original plans called for phasing of the towers but Terrio now says they will be built at the same time. The timetable calls for a finalizing of costing and a selection of hotel operators in the next year — possibly two different brands, and possibly with Asian links — and deciding on the exact model of pre-selling of the hotel units, with possible adoption of a condo hotel model one option being considered.

"Or we may bring in a partner, an international flag maybe from Asia," said Terrio. "We hope in the next couple of years to formulate that and launch the project and build it."

He suggested a preselling target would be 70 per cent, with sales starting possibly next year. If all goes well, and the economy stays firm, he said, groundbreaking could come in 2019. The build would take two-and-a-half years, the partners figure.

Asked about the proposed new Ontario foreign buyers tax, partner Dan Raseta commented, "We are still assessing it and are not sure of what the impact will be at this point."

The business case for an upscale resort-style development is strong, Terrio said.

"We believe Canada is a large international destination and Niagara Falls is the number one destination in Canada," he said. "People around the world recognize the brand Niagara Falls. We believe there are hundreds of millions of people who have not been there, that want to come to Niagara Falls, whether from China, or elsewhere in Asia, India and other parts of southwest Asia including the Middle East. A lot of those travellers statistically want higher-end accommodations, they expect more. So we have tailored this to service this clientele."

Economic spinoff numbers the partners are using include $21 million in direct tourist revenue, $6.5 million in building development costs (to the Niagara Region and City of Niagara Falls), $5 million in property tax contributions and up to 1,000 full-time employment positions.

Construction is expected to create 1,300 jobs in the sector.

Consultants involved in the early stages have been B + H Architects, PCL doing consulting and MMM Group working on engineering.

No contractors have been selected yet. That will come when the hotel partners have been established, said Terrio.

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