Douglas Jemal has a signed contract to purchase Statler City from the late Mark Croce’s Statler City LLC. The two became friends soon after Jemal entered the Buffalo development scene, frequently dining at Croce’s Chop House restaurant. Mark Croce and Michael Capriotto and perished in a January helicopter crash.
The sale agreement was signed on Wednesday. Mayor Byron Brown, joining Jessica Croce in making the announcement this morning in Niagara Square, called it a “very special day.” The Mayor also formalized plans to rename W. Genesee Street in front of the Statler “Croce Way.”
Jemal did not offer specifics on the building’s future but said, “There is no plan. The plan is to let the building speak for itself.” He said the property will include a mix of uses and sees it being connected to the convention center, including a convention-type hotel and possibly gaming. “Everything is open,” says Jemal, adding the redevelopment would happen in one phase and not in pieces, similar to his approach to the Seneca One project.
This would be the third large downtown acquisition for Washington, D.C.- based Douglas Development. Jemal is currently working on the Seneca One reuse project at the foot of Main Street and is planning to convert the former Buffalo Police Headquarters on Church Street into 130 apartments.
Statler City, LLC acquired the circa-1923 building on March 15, 2011 and immediately began building stabilization and lower level interior renovations. Croce invested over $8 million of his own funds into the property including repairing roofs, new mechanical systems, extensively renovations to ballrooms and meeting rooms, a brand new Lobby Bar, two full use commercial kitchens, along with many specialty fixtures and furnishings. The grand lobby and ballrooms were reopened to the public amid much fanfare on December 31, 2011 with a New Year’s Eve Gala.
After purchasing the property, Croce was awarded more than $5 million in state grants for exterior work at the Statler. The grant funding was tied to Croce investing his own money into the redevelopment effort. The first portion of that money was utilized for masonry stabilization and the roof work.
Croce took a measured approach to the building’s upper floors, saying if the building was renovated all at once, the 850,000 sq.ft. of space, even if a mix of office, hotel and/or residential space, would be more than the downtown market could absorb all in one phase. He had always been open to finding one or more development partners for the upper floors of the building which was expected to be a $100 million or more effort.
Croce floated a proposal to expand the existing convention center across Franklin Street to incorporate portions of the Statler and properties north of it. Earlier this year, a site north of Statler City was selected as the possible future site of a new and expanded convention center.
Last year, Croce started $3 million worth of masonry work, canopy repair and renovation, window repair, and storefront renovations on the landmark’s first two levels. The work, to be partially reimbursed by the state grant funding, was seen as setting the stage for future development of the building’s upper floors. Kideney Architects prepared plans for the restoration work which Jemal said will restart soon.
While Jemal finalizes the deal and begins preparing restoration plans, Statler City’s catering and event functions will carry on when the coronavirus restrictions ease.
“I’m so grateful Mark’s vision for the Statler is being taken to another level,” said Jessica Croce. Asked about the remainder of the family’s extensive holdings, Jessica said, “We are taking it one day at a time. He had a vision for Buffalo. Those were my husband’s babies.”
“I miss this guy, we are very much alike,” says Jemal. “We always danced to our own drummer.”
“I don’t own the Statler and I didn’t buy the Statler, I’m just a caretaker,” says Jemal. “We are very fortunate Mark had the vision to save this gem.”
“I’m honored to be a part of this wonderful community,” adds Jemal. As for his drive to succeed, “I wake up everyday and I sh*t it and get it.”