It struggled as a Holiday Inn for years. A Middle Eastern hospitality company couldn’t make it work as an independent resort. Neither could an experienced Long Island and New York City hotel operator, even as a slightly more upscale brand.
Now a new developer team is taking aim at what still remains one of the region’s biggest hotels – the Radisson Hotel Niagara Falls-Grand Island. But this time, its future calls for permanent residents, not overnight guests.
Justin B. Earl, a Salt Lake City-area developer who is becoming active in Western New York, plans to convert the 263-room hotel into apartments, taking advantage of its location and views along the Niagara River.
Those features weren’t enough to lure many hotel guests, because the 12-acre location on Grand Island is still too far from Niagara Falls for tourists and from Buffalo for the business travelers, especially when there are plenty of other options available to them.
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But Earl and his partner, architect Michael J. Conroe of Elev8 Architecture in Orchard Park, are betting that it’s just right as a place for people to live.
“It’s a failed hotel, for a decade or more. It needs a new lease on life,” Earl said. “It’s a strange location, so it wants to be a residential property.”
The property at 100 Whitehaven Road is owned by an affiliate of the McSam Hotel Group, a hotel developer based in Great Neck, N.Y., on Long Island. But Earl and Conroe have it under contract to be acquired, with a closing by the end of the year, pending municipal approvals from the Town of Grand Island for their project.
Then they hope to undertake a $25 million to $30 million project to convert the six-story, 181,245-square-foot hotel into a mix of apartments, commercial space and a restaurant.
According to preliminary plans submitted to the town in late June, and now under initial review by the Planning Board, the developers would create 135 apartments, mostly one-bedroom units, along with some two-bedroom and studio options.
The final mix and makeup of the units is still being determined, but it could include housing for seniors.
Earl and Conroe also want to introduce new uses to the building, possibly including co-working or office space, a daycare, a community center and an entertainment venue, using some of the existing 26,000 square feet of conference and meeting space.
The indoor and outdoor pools would be retained, but the small fitness center would be expanded, relocated from the basement to the first floor banquet hall, and opened up to the community for memberships.
The developers hope to find a new operator for an second-floor restaurant space overlooking the river, but they’re also considering other ideas, such as adding a first-floor bar or tavern and terrace along the river, where boaters could dock, and eat.
“We need to find out what the community wants, and what the market study tells us,” Conroe said.
An outdoor rooftop patio is also an option, using space on top of the fifth floor, with shade structures and probably a barbeque area and fire pit. The developers also will likely put in a riverfront trail, Earl said.
Besides site plan approval, the developers are seeking a “Planned Development District” designation, giving them a special set of zoning rules to govern the project, which would not be eligible under the current “general business district” category for the property.
If approved, Earl said work could start shortly after closing, with just over a year for renovations before reopening by spring or summer of 2024.