Ground was broken Thursday in the Town of Amherst on the site of a future hotel that developers say will be a first in the nation: a "universal design" layout which provides full access to all guests, including those living with one or more of many disabilities.
The "universal design" hotel will be erected off Amherst Manor Drive, adjacent to the Northtown Center at Amherst. Universal design, by definition, takes into account accessibility issues for virtually all disabilities, all at once.
"People in wheelchairs or using assisted devices will be able to have easy access and good mobility. But it's also so individuals who might be deaf or blind, or people with other challenges, will be able to easily use the hotel," explained Jacqui Berger, a member of the Amherst Town Board.
The standards within the building, when finished, will exceed those under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's said to be the first hotel of its kind to be constructed in the nation.
"This is a new certification, a new standard," said Michael Montante, vice president of Uniland Development, which is leading the project. "But we think it's an important one that we would like to see brought out and gain momentum, not only in hotels but in office buildings, retail buildings and apartment buildings."
The future hotel will be a Hampton by Hilton franchise. Its neighbor, the Northtown Center at Amherst, is a four-pad ice rink facility which has hosted numerous USA Hockey National Championship tournaments. One of its four ice surfaces is fitted to accommodate sled hockey players, a variation of the sport in which athletes sit on specially-designed sleds, using a pair of shorter hockey sticks to move around the ice while also using those sticks to move and shoot the puck.
Adam Page, a Western New Yorker who has played with Team USA's sled hockey team at the international level, sees the future hotel as a means to attract even more national or international tournaments to Amherst.
"It's really huge for disabled people, whether you're an athlete coming here or just want to stay in Buffalo," said Page, who was among those participating in the groundbreaking ceremony. "It definitely adds something special to the area."
Concerns were raised by some residents about the tax breaks Uniland sought, and got, for the $14.4 million project. Montante said the hotel will benefit local businesses, the rinks next door and even the residents.
"Right behind me is a vacant piece of property that pays zero taxes because it's on the town tax roll," Montante said. "When we are done, we will be paying taxes for the land and under a pilot. As that pilot burns off it will go to full taxes. It's an exponential increase in real property taxes and revenue to the town from day one."
The hotel is expected to be completed in the spring of 2020.