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Fixing some flaws <br> At least one needed change likely as state revisits tax credit rules

Start from this premise: The Statler Hotel, once the heart of a wealthy city, cannot be allowed to become a casualty. It must not be to Niagara Square as AM&A's has been to Main Street. But, boarded up on its ground floor and the subject of talk of abandonment, this spectacular building is already on the slippery slope to that benighted status.

There may be several ways to reverse the hotel's trajectory, but one of them could not only save that building, but also rescue threatened renovation plans for two others -- AM&A's and the Lafayette Hotel. For that to happen, Albany has to take a deep breath and act. Fortunately, that now seems to be happening.

Buffalo developer Rocco Termini had announced two welcome plans to renovate and reuse those two downtown buildings, based on passage of a historic tax credit law billed as just the tool to save such structures. But the bill was fatally flawed.

One problem is that the franchise tax is disqualified from the credit. In addition, law prohibits an investor/developer partnership to allocate the New York State credit to a business partner separately from the way it allocates the federal credit, which means a partnership must find one investor for both, a more difficult task.

The law sponsored by Buffalo Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, as passed, lacked the necessary tools because Gov. David A. Paterson, sensibly worried about a catastrophic budget deficit, threatened to veto the bill. But other factors need to be considered, including the closed-for-business message it will send about downtown Buffalo if AM&A's remains shuttered and the Lafayette and Statler follow suit.

That is the real threat. Trustee Morris Horwitz said one potential Statler purchaser, whom he declined to identify, has had difficulty selling state historic tax credits on a different project that would have provided funds toward acquiring the Statler. With a workable law, Buffalo may be able to save three historic structures.

Late this week, Paterson agreed to send some needed program changes to the Legislature. There could be a vote soon to allow the sale of tax credits to banks and insurance companies, greatly expanding the pool of potential investors. That solves the biggest problem, although the governor's budget team -- concerned about possible misuse and fraud -- still isn't backing measures to allocate state and federal credits to different investors.

However it may be accomplished, renovating and reopening the Statler will be a heavy lift. The hotel is in such bad financial and physical shape that an attorney for the building's bankruptcy trustee recently argued to a judge that it is worth less than nothing. Specifically, attorney Peter Allen Weinmann of Wolfgang & Weinmann declared that what was once a grand structure was now a "100 percent vacant, decrepit building" worth negative $12.184 million.

That is a painful measure of the hill that must be climbed to save the Statler. But that must be the task, and it requires all hands to be on deck, including Mayor Byron W. Brown, who hasn't had much to say about the issue, as well as the region's entire legislative delegation.

They should all be advocating for this building, looking for ways to pull those terrible boards off its windows. Given the possibility that a real tax credit law could accomplish that -- and more -- they should push hard to make this law and other urban rehabilitation measures more useful.

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