It has been said time and time again that the Statler is a treasure that must be saved and that is exactly what Mark Croce and James Eagan are attempting to do. Statler City LLC has put together a phased approach for seeing the rehabilitation and reuse of the iconic Buffalo building.
There are two deadlines approaching. Croce and Eagan’s due diligence period expires on Monday, though there is a possibility that it could be extended as the team is working in good faith to close the deal. The other is the National Trust next October. Many people believe it is crucial to remove the boarded up windows and the fence surrounding the building and have the building’s bottom floors open in time for the convention. Croce and Eagan believe that can happen if state and city funds can be secured to assist with stabilizing the building.
There has been some investment in the Statler over the past few years by previous owner Bashar Issa including close to $1 million for three new elevators and significant soft surface demolition. His Statler redevelopment plan fell apart and the building was emptied after it went into receivership.
Statler City LLC believes that there is no silver bullet scheme that will save the building. If the building is renovated all at once, the 750,000 sq.ft. of space, even if a mix of retail, office, hotel or residential space, would be more than the downtown market could handle in one phase. Financing for what would likely be an $80 to $100 million renovation is nonexistent today.
Instead, Croce and Eagan believe small investments over time, organic growth is what they are calling it, to let the building pay for itself is the sound approach.
Secure the exterior to prevent further deterioration and to allow for the removal of the fence and boarded up façade. Of immediate concern are the physical issues with the building that include falling terra cotta, repairs needed on the building’s lower roofs, asbestos, and finding an HVAC solution.
The cost to stabilize the building is estimated at $5.3 million. This is the work the partners are seeking, foundation, state and local financial assistance on arguing it is cheaper to invest in saving the building than ultimately demolishing it.
Revitalize the basement, first floor and mezzanine area into retail, office and banquet space that would allow for a revolving infusion of cash to pay for building expenses. The partners are prepared to spend millions to renovate the interior of the first three levels to “relight the bottom” of the building.
Allow for the remaining tower space to grow organically as the local market demands into hotel, residential or office space. Croce estimates that renovating each 30,000 sq.ft. floor will cost $2.5 to $3 million.
Develop a connection to the existing Buffalo Convention Center across Franklin Street as part of the longer term revitalization.
Croce and Eagan propose to connect the Statler to the Convention Center via an addition spanning Franklin Street. The addition would contain 50,000 sq.ft. of exhibit space and connect to the Statler’s existing meeting rooms.
“We have advanced the concept of tying into the Convention Center to allow for their long desired expansion,” said Statler City attorney Robert Knoer. “This provides a real public benefit in return for the stabilization investment. A new 50,000 square foot exhibition space could connect the center to the elegant meeting and banquet space of the Statler,” he said.
Knoer added that the site for the convention center was originally selected for its proximity to the Statler, and the Statler was run as a Convention Center itself. A final decision to expand the Center would have to be up to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and City and County officials.
As for the rest of the building and what it will be used for that is still unknown even to Statler City LLC. Possibilities include apartments, mid-market condominiums, or a hotel serving the convention center. The group declares that there are already enough “shovel ready” sites downtown and what is truly needed are “drywall ready” sites.
“We’re interested in working with governmental entities and even other developers in using the Statler for creative community solutions,” Croce said.