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Upscale hotel will rise downtown $1.35 million state grant leads to official groundbreaking

Restaurateur and developer Mark Croce's proposed upscale boutique hotel took a couple of major steps toward reality Thursday, with Croce and city officials announcing a $1.35 million state grant as they officially broke ground on the $19 million renovation project at Franklin and West Huron streets.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said the city had been approved by the state to get the full amount it had sought for Croce's highly anticipated hotel under the Restore New York Communities Initiative.

"This is going to be a tremendous addition to downtown Buffalo," Brown said.

Restore New York grants are designed to revitalize urban areas and stabilize neighborhoods. The state money can also be used for unique commercial projects that need some additional help to succeed, Croce noted.

Croce said the public-private partnership was needed to ensure the success of his biggest venture to date.

"The project has been on the drawing board for a while, but it was difficult to close the gap," he said.

Croce, known for the casual and fine-dining restaurants he owns on Franklin Street, is planning to build a 110,000-square-foot hotel on the site of the former Curtiss Building, the Continental nightclub and a parking lot at Franklin and West Huron streets.

Speaking to more than 100 guests and dignitaries in a fenced-in parking lot on Franklin Street, Croce said the new venture would provide a "true boutique hotel experience" that is "as high-end as they come," comparing it to the five-star Hazelton Hotel in Toronto.

And he said it would "complement all of the developments in the city," citing Uniland Development Co.'s nearby Avant Building and Embassy Suites hotel in particular as an example he'd like to follow. "I hope to get just a little overflow from the Avant," he said.

Plans call for the "lifestyle" hotel to have 57 rooms, including one deluxe presidential suite and three penthouse suites, as well as a three-meal, full-service restaurant, a 7,000-square-foot day spa and salon, and an "ultra unique" lounge.

It will also include 20,000 square feet of meeting space, banquet facilities and a boardroom. And it will not be a franchise, but an independent hotel that will offer package deals with nearby businesses.

The hotel will employ more than 80 people in management and hospitality jobs, not counting construction jobs for a year.

The project is located in an Empire Zone, so Croce will get sales tax credits on the materials for construction, as well as property tax, wage tax and sales tax breaks going forward -- including for guests of the hotel. Plans call for it to be completed by the end of 2010, just before the National Historic Trust comes to town for its convention in early 2011.

He noted that local companies such as HSBC Bank USA, M&T Bank Corp., Delaware North Cos., Labatt USA and New Era Cap frequently bring executives and guests to town, and he's "only looking for 57 rooms to fill." And despite the addition or renovation of other hotel space recently, including the new Avant, Croce said there's still demand for more.

"There's not enough hotel rooms. It seems as we build new rooms, the demand keeps going up. People are enjoying the new product," he said.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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