Statler Vision Outlined; Governor Paterson Backs Plan

Mark Croce sees limitless potential in the 19-story historic Statler building.  Once Buffalo’s most elegant hotel, the building is a shell of its former self surrounded by chain link fencing and its ground floor windows boarded up.  Despite being empty for nearly a year, and having undergone several unkind “renovations” by previous owners, the building is in relatively good shape.  But with winter approaching and bankruptcy court deadlines looming, the future of the building remains very much in doubt.

Croce and James Eagan’s Statler City, LLC have a phased reuse plan for the property if the public sector invests $5.3 million in emergency repairs to the lower roofs, shoring up the decorative terra cotta, repairing leaning parapet walls, and improvements to the building’s HVAC system.  They argue the $5.3 million is significantly cheaper than demolishing the building which has suffered from years of deferred maintenance.  Governor Paterson is on board, during a visit to Buffalo yesterday he pledged State support for the rehabilitation plan if local officials “do their part.”

DSC_0890s.JPG“The roof problems need to be dealt with immediately, particularly between the wings of the tower and the low-rise section of the building along Franklin Street,” says Croce.  Water damage is visible in several areas of the building’s lower levels, most notably in the 28′ ceiling of the main lobby.

DSC_0726s.JPGAnother impediment to reuse is antiquated heated and cooling equipment.  Croce says the building’s HVAC system must be modernized.  Prior owners were spending approximately $1 million per year to heat and cool the building.  The boilers were installed in 1983.  One possibility being discussed is connecting the building to the district heating system that services several of the buildings surrounding, and including, City Hall. 

“We need to get heat on right away,” says Croce.

DSC_0720s.JPGStatler City, LLC is prepared to spend millions to renovate the interior of the first three levels to “relight the bottom” of the building.  Croce envisions retail space along Delaware Avenue and Genesee Street fronting the Convention Center.  Potential tenants have already expressed significant interest in some of the lower level retail space. 

Croce says reopening the basement, first floor and mezzanine areas for retail, office and banquet uses would allow for a revolving infusion of cash to pay for recurring building expenses.

With years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality field, Croce will operate the building’s banquet and restaurant facilities.  He currently employs an army of 200 food service and entertainment workers in downtown Buffalo.

DSC_0731s.JPG“This is the best building in the best location anywhere in Buffalo,” says Croce.  “It contains some of the finest event spaces between here and Manhattan.”

Croce says reopening the banquet facilities in the building will be a “multi-million dollar, privately-financed” endeavor.  Some of the improvements are cosmetic in nature.  Planned upgrades include restoration of the lobby and corridor floors, new exterior marquis, repairs to damaged ceiling plaster, and new painting and carpeting. 

A new central kitchen would be built in the basement.  It will allow simultaneous events in the building’s signature banquet rooms.  New bathrooms will be constructed on the main level to serve the main meeting rooms.

DSC_0715s.JPGThe Golden Ballroom can seat 600 people for a sit-down dinner.  It is approximately 8,000 sq.ft. in size and is ringed by a second story balcony.  The room requires new carpeting, paint, hardwood floor and ceiling repairs. 

DSC_0736s.JPGDSC_0740s.JPGThe Terrace Room, overlooking Niagara Square, is in relatively good shape.  “The terrazzo flooring in this room is spectacular,” says Croce.  It can seat 450 people in its 5,000 sq.ft. of space.

DSC_0935s.JPGIn the basement, the Rendezvous Room will be remodeled and available for events and meetings.

DSC_0750s.JPGA gutted lounge area off the Terrace Room, previously named The Downtowner and before that the Beef Barron, will be reopened.  Last used twenty-five years ago, Croce envisions a lounge and jazz club that will be open daily and accessible from the main lobby as well as Genesee Street.  It will draw people into the building on a consistent basis.

DSC_0786.JPGElsewhere on the mezzanine level, the building’s meeting rooms will be renovated including the mahogany-paneled Georgian Room.  Mezzanine space fronting Delaware Avenue is ideally suited for a day spa and salon says Croce. 

DSC_0806s.JPGThe former library is likely to be renovated for building tenant use.

“We’re looking for the right mix of uses and tenants on the lower levels to become a real draw,” says Croce.  “This property is located at the epicenter of the city.”

If financial assistance is secured in coming weeks from the state and city to stabilize the building, Croce envisions starting repairs and renovations in January or February.  His goal is to have the building’s lower floors open and the building’s exterior cleaned up in time for the National Preservation Conference next October.

DSC_0857s.JPGReuse of the building’s upper floors will happen incrementally.  Croce envisions a mix of uses.  He says that with nearly 600,000 sq.ft. of space, redeveloping the tower’s floors in one phase would flood the downtown market with office, residential units or hotel rooms. 

“The Avant shows the wisdom of creating a mixed-use vertical community, hence the name Statler City” says Croce.  “While Uniland has gone after the high-end market with a contemporary product, this building has the ability to come in behind it.  I envision the Statler retaining its historical feel and geared towards the middle of the market.  It will be the city’s second true mixed-use building.”

Croce is encouraged that the Embassy Suites in the Avant, downtown’s newest hotel, is expanding after just one year in business.

“It shows what I’ve believed for a long time and market studies have shown- there is a strong market for first class hotel rooms downtown,” says Croce.

DSC_0905s.JPGThree of the building’s floors were never converted to office space.  They were last used as hotel rooms in 1983.  Bashar Issa gutted the space and was in the process of creating larger rooms to meet the standards of the hotel chain he was in talks with, Wyndham Historic.  Croce says the work that Issa did complete, such as elevator upgrades and cleaning out the building, fits in with his long-term plans for the property.

DSC_0858.JPGDSC_0862s.JPGDowntown, city and water views make the upper floors ideal for office or residential space. 

Parking has been an issue for other developers that have looked at the Statler.  Croce has a jump start on the others.

“I have the parking available to support the redevelopment plan,” notes Croce.  He has purchased several large surface parking lots north of the Statler and also the site of Issa’s proposed City Tower at S. Elmwood and W. Mohawk Street.  In all, Croce owns and operates approximately 500 parking spots within one block of the Statler.  This already represents close to a $6 million dollar private investment made to help secure the future of downtown’s grandest property.

Croce and Eagan have come under fire for seeking state and city assistance to stabilize the building.  Former gubernatorial candidate and developer Carl Paladino has threatened to sue if the state and city help stabilize the building.  Croce is unfazed.  “Bring it on,” he says.  Twisting Paladino’s campaign slogan he adds, “I’m happy as hell.”

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38 comments
BuffaloQPublic
BuffaloQPublic

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with being watchful about the spending of our tax dollars. However, $5.3 million is a teaspoon of green-backs in today’s money terms even though it’s a huge amount to the average citizen.

It’s somewhat in the realm of the $16 Erie County tax hike proposal that was assailed last year. Unemotional analysis would have viewed it as less than a $1.50 per month increase had it been imposed. On a $100,000 home the total levy would have amounted to a little more than a latte and a piece of cheese cake.

Bottomline, public dollars will most likely have to be spent on the Statler, no matter what fate befalls it. The caveat might be the longer the delay the more the outlay.

Permission granted by this taxpayer to release the cash, immediately.

whatever
whatever

doc, your comment is wrong if it intended to imply presidential library construction is funded at all by federal taxes. It isn't, so the answer to your curiosity is zero.

http://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/faqs/#8

"How is a Presidential library paid for and funded?

A Presidential library is constructed with private or non-Federal funds donated to non-profit organizations established usually for the express purpose of building a Presidential library and supporting its programs.

..."

girlinthebuff
girlinthebuff

This article does an excellent job of highlighting the features and marketable assets of the Statler, as well as the most feasible plan for reuse. Organic upward growth is the only way that this is going to work. A $5M shot in the arm is a drop in the bucket considering the revenue (r/e tax, sales tax, bed tax, etc.) that this project will generate.

And this while the funding is "coming from" the state, it is unlikely actual state dollars. This is most likely federal funds earmarked for the state to distribute as they see fit for development. Consider that. Federal dollars. For all of the money we, as taxpayers, have paid to bail out banks and corporation, this is ours. Don't fight it or the window on the $5M will close.

DOC
DOC

Good idea and a novel one at that. It's refreshing to read something intelligent instead of the usual whines from the misinformed, malcontents whose greatest skill is expressing their subjective, anger-fueled opinions which really contribute nothing. As we speak, the George W. Bush presidential Memorial Library is under construction having recently broken ground on November 16th 2010 in Texas. I am curious how much of our Federal Tax money is funding this endeavor? The city of Buffalo produced two presidents, killed one and was the site of an inauguration of another. This city is long overdue for a presidential memorial of national significance. The Statler would be a very good choice in my opinion.

The Kettle
The Kettle

Allentownguy>" Then watch as developers get multi million handouts… I will tell you it isn’t easy to watch."

Just take comfort in the fact that those developers, as well as the rest of America, are subsidizing a mortgage system that makes middle class homeownership possible. I'm sure it isn't easy for the average renter to watch homeowners get "handouts" in the form of tax breaks, FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.

Allentwnguy
Allentwnguy

Feel free to jump in with some of our own money??? I think a lot of people that have trouble with these “free handouts” are homeowners that are trying to keep their own buildings in shape and are having to put cash together themselves to maintain their buildings. So I for one do invest in Buffalo.

My house needs a roof and I am going to have to save 15-20 grand to put one on. While my roof isn’t leaking it will eventually. I just hope I have been able to save the money to replace it before it happens. Paying my taxes (another payment next month) and watching developers get bundles of Millions just rubs homeowner/taxpayers the wrong way. Paying rent doesn’t really put the picture into focus. When you write the checks for taxes, garbage collection, water, sewer and then put repairs on top of that…. Then watch as developers get multi million handouts… I will tell you it isn’t easy to watch.

How often do grants or tax breaks, without a lot of restrictions, get offered to homeowners or landlords? Not many! Having a “major focal” building doesn’t do much good if the surrounding neighborhoods are rotting.

Don’t get me wrong I’m all for preservation and do everything on my house to bring it as close to original as reasonably possible. I would hate to see a major building lost. Just make it a loan or an investment for the city. Get the money back.

whatever
whatever

I wouldn't paint all highways with a broad brush. I think most of them around WNY are useful and popular. But this 4-mile extension of 219 does sound like more cost than it was worth.

Maybe Spitzer should have canceled it in early 2007 and directed the DOT to spend remaining funds on other Upstate road work. Pataki could've canceled it too, but as we know R's are almost always wrong about everything. If even a smart pro-urban liberal Dem like Spitzer thought the 219 project should continue.... maybe it seemed to have enough merits to fool even our best and brightest.

As to why nobody had criticized it in Buffalo Rising comments if that's the case, well maybe the project was never mentioned here before. That isn't necessarily "ignoring".

On a positive note, the DOT made a good decision to widen the 290 exits at NF Blvd. That section of NFB was becoming congested and dangerous.

rpcolosi
rpcolosi

I rarely post, but read BRO daily.

Has anyone ever thought to put the proposed Presidential Center somewhere within the Statler? I have heard talk about a presidential center in buffalo for years, but various locations. The Statler makes a ton of sense, though I am sure there would be some logistical challenges due to the outlay of the building. However - holding it there would allow the center to focus on not just Cleveland, Fillmore, McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, but also past presidents and distinguished politic personnel who have stayed in that very building.

It's just a thought I'd like to see brought up to some powers that be....

longgone
longgone

There is no doubt that all things considered...$5M is the smart bet.

The challenge is looking at the ROI. If the Croce gets the $5M, there is nothing put ideas post the first 3 floors. Does anyone think he actually has the scratch to pull this off in 5-10 years? I don't.

I think the best option, for everyone involved, is to wait it out on the $5M until after the property goes back to the courts. Then you put the $5M in the property and then try and sell it again. One would think that the $5M would at the very least be captured in the sale...if not more.

I hate to be a negative nancy but I think Croce wants to the Statler only to block other developers from coming in a creating more hotel rooms. With the recent expansion at Avant, there is more pressure on Croce to complete his OTHER hotel project. If a developer came in and put 100 rooms in the Statler before he completed that one...his investment there would be hurt even more.

grad94
grad94

master craftsmen and carpenters have hardly vanished; the willingness to pay for them is what vanished.

The Kettle
The Kettle

Good post BLR. It is good to point out a lot of the people whining about the public investment in the Statler are not in favor of less government spending as much as the would rather the government spent more on things that they value. They may get upset over paltry preservation credits but they have no problem with needless highways or other government programs they like.

Slobadan Melosivic
Slobadan Melosivic

FYI - it is very easy for Patterson to make promises because he is going to be gone in 2 months. Cuomo is going to put the skids on this project. Paladino would have assured funds to secure and restore this place (whether it was him or Croce who did the work).

Congrats to all you dems who voted for cuomo because a couple of emails - he is going to destroy what is left of this town and upstate

Brian
Brian

This looks like a great plan. 5 mil is not that much money considering what Croce wants to do with the building. Considering how NYS wastes money, I think Statler is a valuable asset worth investing in.

townline
townline

Thats ridiculous. Paladino would definitely choose to put in one of his tax-break-financed Rite Aids over a Dollar Store at this location. It could probably even be a fancy one with a drive-thru!

NBuffguy
NBuffguy

I think a lot of Buffalo Rising readers would agree with you and whine right along with you about public money wasted on building more highways. There have been plenty of chances for this in the many Sprawl articles on this site. This story, however, is about the Statler, and that probably explains why Route 219 never came into the conversation until you thought to whine about it.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

Amen. Buffalo is finally getting it-our architecture can be one of our greatest assets, and economic tools. Look at New Orleans, Savannah and Boston for other examples.

We need a preservation fund and a leadership that fully supports this, so that we can stabilize not only Tier I (Central Terminal, Richardson, Statler, etc.) but other significant properties...for future use.

jim1234664
jim1234664

219 extension seems a bit rediculous... Who is this helping?

highway extensions like the 990, 219 and 400 mostly only help people to live ever farther away from the city than was once possible.

the 990 for example has produced a huge office park in northern amherst, and has also made this once rural part of town into area full of large subdivisions.

the only positive is that lockport and buffalo are more connected. (not that its a crucial or even useful link in my opinion)

The Boss
The Boss

Statler+Lafayette+Richardson+Martin House = Architectual Renaisance. I say public investment is neccessary to bring this around and continue our progress. If these 4 projects come together at near the same time it could really be a big story and overall image and self esteem explosion.

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Funny how so many like to whine about 5 million dollars while ignoring the real waste of taxpayer dollars, the 4.2 mile 219 extension that cost 135 million or 32 million per mile.

Reminds me of the Tea Party fools that promised to go after the dreaded earmarks to help balance the budgets, never mind the fact that earmarks are less than 1% of the budget.

jim1234664
jim1234664

Did some of you with the negative comments even watch the video??

This building has oppulence and detail on a level that is high even for buffalo. The Statler was commissioned in a time when almost all architectural elements were hand made and master craftsmen were numerous and highly skilled.

We will NEVER have the oppertunity to create another "Statler" in the future. Not only because Buffalo is never going to be the center of wealth and influence it once was, but also because we simply dont build things like this anymore. The master carpenters and brass smiths simply dont exist these days.

We might not have top tier weather or a strong economy. We dont live in a pro business state or region. We dont have effective leadership. One thing we do have is amazing architecture at rock bottom pricing. (although the good areas have been rising in the last decade or so)

Many cities I have visited, such as atlanta have neither and never will.

I for one feel lucky to live in a city with such a rich built evironment, even more so in a time when a good deal of our treasures are being restored.

And $5 million is a drop in the bucket, especially when you are talking about restoration of one of our largest and most grand buildings.

If I had things my way, I would make the $5 Mil a year a permanent fixture of the budget to shore up buildings in and around downtown and get them development ready, once downtown is devoid of rotting shells the money could be used to radiate out to other parts of the city.

iwedgewood27
iwedgewood27

While I understand that the price of knocking down the building would be far greater than occupying the building, I can understand the frustration that people are expressing in spending public dollars as tax breaks for development downtown. It breaks the perfect free market economy ideal I have made in my head. Since public dollars is being spent on securing the building, I suggest this as a compromise:

Allow auction/sell of the floors individually. I read somewhere (most likely here, on buffalo rising) that it will cost 3 million per floor estimated to renovate. That way, crocce can use the first 3 floors, get the credit as being the savior of the building, and buy additional floors if the market calls for expansion.

I feel that this method will likely expedite development since no one in their right mind will want all 18 floors all at once and yet if a company is looking at their own space downtown, it gives them an option to own some historic property as well.

In my mind's eye, I was imagining gathering 10 people in which they would invest 300k into a floor to own a condo. Realistically, I can't see a grass roots front occurring like that when I can't think of anyone I know that has that much to spend on a condo :p

brownteeth
brownteeth

I wonder if Paladino is threatening Croce to stop his development so the building ultimately gets demolished (with public funds). Then he can swoop in and buy the empty lot and put a dollar general on the corner set back from the curb with plenty of parking in front. He should put his money where his mouth is if he's going to criticize Croce for asking for some start up money to secure the building. Just think all that wasted campaign money that could have been used to restore the greystone or to buy the Statler. Instead it's now in the garbage in the form of orange and black signs. Talk about a waste of money.

NBuffguy
NBuffguy

Uh, taxes don't work that way. It's not like you can say here's my $5 for this project. The State funding for this project wouldn't be coming just from Western New York, but from across the NY. If you're asking people on Long Island to contribute to this cause, then you have to be willing to have your tax dollars spent on theirs. These handouts might not seem like much individually, but $5 million here and there sure adds up quickly when you've got several thousand of them.

downtown resident
downtown resident

For those against these developers getting these "free tax handouts" that are such a sore subject, feel free to jump in with some of your own money and invest in some of the vacant properties downtown. There's tons available and it will increase our growth in our city.

Holeabove
Holeabove

He can have my $5, I would even throw in $15 more, just to cover a few of you guys on here. You can thank me later

WhatRUSmoking
WhatRUSmoking

Considering the property taxes in this area, the City should be able to recoup their investment in relatively short order if Croce's group buys. If not, we're left with tear-down cost and lost tax revenue on a premier lot on Niagara Square...at least until either Walgreen's or Rite-Aid builds there.

brownteeth
brownteeth

I can live with a $5 mill. "handout" if he follows through with his initial phase of "re-lighting" the first three floors within a years time. The bottom line is that he is stepping up to the plate with a solid plan to revitalize the building which no one else can offer at the moment. I am sure the city and state spend far more money on far less important ventures. The image of that building being open for business is worth far more than a $5 million investment. To put it into perspective, $5 million in tax dollars breaks down to about a $5/person donation from Erie county residents.

phrank
phrank

$5 mil to help save and restore a large, prominent landmark in the heart of the city or $35 mil to get a big box store to locate on the waterfront? Maybe they both don't make sense, but which is a better use of public funds? Should that $5 mil be spent to secure 2 more jobs at Verizon in Niagara county instead? Does that one make sense? In the context of other developments in the area, saving the Statler is a good investment, and will surely convert to more jobs per dollar spent than the Yahoo and Verizon incentives going on now.

dblack37
dblack37

After the first 3 floors are renovated I would love to see a development plan that would turn the top floors into residential units and incrementally work towards the middle of the building as demand incurs. Not only would the banquet, restaurant, and retail space begin to create revenue, but those views from the top floors and a solid product would be able to sell very quickly, creating even more revenue to eventually rehab the rest of the building. I see the 5 million as a relatively small amount to pay these days with the amount of benefits this building has. Some people need to be rewarded for taking these type of risks in Buffalo, not chastised for every move they make. They are not talking about demolition, they are not talking about a completely government backed project; they are talking about some help to get underway and help bring life to the epicenter of the city.

NBuffguy
NBuffguy

Are they asking for a loan from tax payers, or do they want the $5.3 million just given to them? Obviously the buidling will be making big money if/when the restoration is complete. So why shouldn't the taxpayers get their money back when all is said and done? They're businessmen, so I am sure they've considered that when our nearly bankrupt state invests $5.3 million, they can easily make the case that they only need a few million more to finish the job. I just don't see where their incentive is see this through to the end when they're asking for at least a dollar-for-dollar match on their own investment, and possibly a good deal more than that. Doing the work with our money isn't exactly what I think of when I hear the word philanthropy.

tom.wonderful
tom.wonderful

Nope, still dead set against using our tax dollars to shore it up. He bought it, he should of had the money set aside to start the work himself. If he gets tax money for repairs it should be a loan. Want your historic tax credit down the road, fine. Want a window replacement tax credit like the rest of us fine, same with furnace etc. Which is another point brought up here, he wants to now use the City heating system? So 5 million to fix it up and the city residents to start heating his building which according to your artcle {with air} is upwards of 1 million a year? Fire up the Boilers and use your own money to heat the place until you can afford to replace the system! Did you not do a walk through and inspection????? Whats next, Extreme Home Makeover to come and finish the job for him? I really don't see "Croce-Statler" as a win win combination, more like "Epic Fail" down the road. Oh, and adding little comments like "army of 200" do not make me see him as a Savior.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

I, too, look forward to this moving forward and re-stabilizing. But, I reiterate: why the free money for the government, and why not a loan?

When the banks needed a loan, we, the tax payer, provided it. Unfortunately, much of it did not penetrate back into the economy in the form of loans (because the banks wanted to shore up their balance sheets and didnt want to have to conform to government regulations).

Same with GM and AIG. I am more hopeful that the taxpayer will see something from the former than the latter.

So, why not here? Why isn't the taxpayer, who is footing part of the bill for this important building, also seeing some of the upside? Input some clawbacks so that can be the case and the droning of the "not my tax dollar" argument can be quelled.

Lego1981
Lego1981

I look forward to seeing progress made on this building asap.

LouisTully
LouisTully

I'm on board with the "why do public funds have to be used" opposition. But if my tax dollars go towards a project that is a success to the City by bringing jobs, tax revenue, life, and so many other things then fine. Take my money. Croce is rich, but he's stepping up and putting his reputation and his own finances on the line for this. Will he benefit if he takes our money and the project works out? Of course. But who will benefit more from a successful Statler, him or the community? There's many other developers in WNY with deep pockets who did not take this project on. Croce is trying to save it. Pad his pockets, sure. But as a West Point friend of mine has said it is human nature for people to crawl over the bodies of their dying friends to get to the top. If Croce is taking a bite out of my leg and it benefits this city as a whole, I'll take it.

From the conservative viewpoint of no handouts, what is the alternative? Knock the building down? And where does that get us.

GTB
GTB

because five million dollars is really not very much money, in comparison to the amount of money that would fall on tax payers if we have to tear it down and nonetheless it is an asset of the community and we should be interested in making an investment into such an important part of our urban fabric.

longgone
longgone

Because that is not how things work in WNY.

whatever
whatever

Isn't Croce a multi-millionaire at this point from owning so many parking lots for so many years?

Why should average people's taxes be used to give him $5M for this? Why shouldn't he have to spend $5M of his own, or borrow it using his parking lot properties as collateral, or get five of his wealthy friends or acquaintances to chip in $1M each? Or some combination of those three private voluntary approaches?

jag
jag

Nice article - great outline of all the existing value in the building. Patching her up and getting the first 3 floors up and running is as common sense as life gets.

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