Developer Rocco Termini has done what once looked impossible – resurrecting one of downtown Buffalo's landmarks and turning it into the glittering the Hotel @ the Lafayette.
The early 20th century Hotel Lafayette was in terrible condition after years of neglect, nearing a date with the wrecking ball. But Termini saw something he could work with in that wreck of a building. That is, as long as he got the needed support.
The developer has said many times over that the $43 million project could not have been possible without state historic tax credits. And while that was the big boost for the project, the mayor is right to note that the city supported the project "to the tune of about $1.1 million, a low-interest loan and infrastructure support."
The transformation has required enormous effort, putting 270 people to work on the renovations, with about 200 needed to work permanently at the various businesses that will occupy the space.
In addition to businesses, a new taproom bar and restaurant and wedding reception space, the seven-story building includes a 34-room boutique hotel and 115 apartments, of which 95 already have been rented.
Termini deserves to take a deep bow, but he is not resting on this triumph. He is indefatigable, driven by a desire to resurrect other distressed icons throughout downtown, notably the old AM&A's department store. He is prepared to tackle that project if the state improves the historic rehabilitation tax credit program that was essential to the success of the Lafayette project.
The current five-year tax credit program is set to expire in 2014.
Termini and four lawmakers, State Sens. Mark J. Grisanti and Timothy M. Kennedy, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, want to raise the per-project cap on state historic tax credits from the current $5 million to $12 million. It should be done.
To keep the higher cap from being too costly for the state, the regional economic development councils could each designate a few projects deserving the higher limit. Even $12 million in credits might not be enough for such enormous projects as AM&A's, the Central Terminal and the H.H. Richardson complex, but it would provide a significant start.
Two additional rehabilitation tax credit bills introduced in the Senate and Assembly last month – one removing restrictions that limit the ability of out-of-state investors to partner in New York State rehabilitation projects and another extending the program five years, to 2019 – need to get passed and signed by the governor.
The urgency couldn't be more obvious. The economic effectiveness of the state historic rehabilitation tax credit program is on display on Lafayette Square at the newly renovated and vibrant Hotel @ the Lafayette.