July 3, 1931 – Jan. 8, 2021
William P. Hart’s children followed their father into the hotel business, but in other cities.
“My sisters and I grew up in the business,” said Mr. Hart’s son, David P. Hart, who is now president and CEO of Hart Hotels Inc. “But none of us were here, we had left town. My mom convinced him that if he started his own company, we’d come back, and she was right.”
Mr. Hart’s four children and two sons-in-law have been working in the business for 35 years, David Hart said.
William Patterson Hart died Jan. 8 in a Hamburg rehabilitation facility, where he was recuperating from a fall in his Orchard Park home. He was 89.
At the time of his death, Mr. Hart remained chairman of Hart Hotels, which has an investment in 16 hotels, with several new projects in development.
“I called him ‘semi-retired,’ ” his son said, “but his mind was very sharp all the way to the end, but I could always rely on him. He would remember detailed things from the business and the construction side of things.
“I always tell everybody, ‘I went to Bill Hart University,’ ” David Hart said.
Mr. Hart was best known in Western New York for his work co-chairing, with Burt Flickinger, the local organizing committee for the 1993 World University Games, which brought athletes from 118 nations to Buffalo.
The University at Buffalo Stadium and the Erie Community College Burt Flickinger Athletic Center were built for the Games.
Mr. Hart was born in Youngstown, Ohio, the third of four sons of Max and Cathleen Baynes Hart. He was a good athlete, following in the footsteps of his father, who played with the Fort Wayne Friars professional football team.
The family moved to Western New York in 1947, and Mr. Hart graduated from Amherst High School in 1949. He worked as a butcher for Federal Meats before he was drafted into the Army in 1952.
He served until 1954, including combat tours of duty in Korea, and received numerous service stars and medals.
Upon his return, Mr. Hart earned a bachelor’s degree from Canisius College and a civil engineering degree from the University of Detroit.
In 1958, he joined the EJ Fuhrman Construction Co., supervising projects in Western New York.
In 1959, he married Jennie Sperduti of South Buffalo. She had immigrated at age 5 from Italy with her mother, joining her father, who had become a naturalized citizen and worked for Republic Steel for 47 years.
When the Belz family of Memphis hired the EJ Fuhrman company to manage the construction of the Holiday Inn on Dingens Street, Mr. Hart was the job foreman. The hotel opened in 1963, and four years later, Mr. Hart joined the Belz organization, which built three more Holiday Inns in the area. In 1977, he became president of the Belz hotel management company.
Under Mr. Hart’s leadership, the Belz company developed 22 hotels, including the famed Peabody Hotel in Memphis, known for the ducks that swim daily in the lobby bar fountain. Renamed the Peabody Hotel Group, the Belz organization became one of the largest Holiday Inn franchises in the country.
In 1985, Mr. Hart started Hart Hotels with the purchase of four local Holiday Inns from his partners.
In late 1988, he stepped down from his post as chairman of the Buffalo Convention and Tourist Bureau to protest Erie County’s diversion of $150,000 in bed-tax revenues to the county’s general fund.
At the time, The Buffalo News editorial board called him “entirely right in deploring the diversion,” which it wrote “clearly sets a worrisome precedent.”
Mr. Hart was active in civic affairs, serving on the boards of the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Buffalo Partnership, the Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, D’Youville College and Mercy Hospital. In 1992, Mr. Hart served as chairman of the International Association of Holiday Inns.
Mr. Hart was known for his work ethic, knack for business and creative insight and vision in both the construction and hospitality industry, his son said.
Mr. Hart, described by his son as “a mathematical genius,” honed his skill and practiced before playing at both casinos and the stock exchange. “He won more times than he lost,” at the blackjack and craps tables, his son said.
Mr. Hart was a skilled and competitive golfer for six decades and a 50-year member of the Orchard Park Country Club.
He was very well-read, enjoyed travel and was “a man of faith,” his son said.
Mr. Hart was dedicated to the Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, Fla., set up to house critically ill children and their families who visit Disney World and other attractions. The Hart family and friends have funded villas in the village.
Besides his son David, Mr. Hart is survived by his wife of 61 years, Jennie Sperduti Hart; three daughters, Joanne M. Hart, Linda Costello and Cathleen Frantz; a brother, Robert Hart; 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Wednesday in Nativity of Our Lord Church, Orchard Park.