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Brown urges approval of Statler tax waiver

Mayor Byron W. Brown is urging the Common Council to vote Tuesday on a measure that he says will make it easier for a developer to acquire the Statler Towers and begin reviving the shuttered complex.

The city's chief planner could meet with lawmakers today to discuss a plan that would see Buffalo agree not to pursue back taxes or other expenses from the Statler bankruptcy estate.

But Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of Buffalo's Office of Strategic Planning, stressed that the move would not wipe out the financial obligations. Mehaffy said it would merely mean that the debts would become the obligation of the Statler's buyer, instead of the bankruptcy estate.

The procedural step is viewed as an "inducement to get the Trustee comfortable" with continuing on with a sale of the 18-story complex, Brown said. The waiver would include nearly $190,000 in property tax claims and $34,000 in costs the city has incurred to ensure public safety around the building -- namely the installation of fences and barricades to protect passers-by from falling debris.

Erie County, the Buffalo Sewer Authority and the city Water Board would have to approve similar waivers.

Developer Mark D. Croce has formed a company, Statler City LLC, that is interested in acquiring the property.

While the Council only received the document that explained the waivers last Thursday, Mehaffy said he's hopeful lawmakers will take action at Tuesday's meeting.

"It's not a very complicated issue," Mehaffy said. "What's the downside?"

Brown echoed similar sentiments, telling The Buffalo News the waivers are key to moving forward with redevelopment of a structure that sits on Niagara Square across from City Hall and a $137 million U.S. courthouse that is being built on Delaware Avenue.

Council President David A. Franczyk said he's prepared to support the waiver request, barring any last-minute legal concerns.

Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana said lawmakers will hold a pre-meeting caucus today when the issue will likely surface.

"I know [the Brown administration] has put extensive effort into this, and I'm sure they've put something together that can work," Fontana said.

But the lawmaker stopped short of predicting that the waiver will be approved Tuesday, saying it's "premature" to speculate until lawmakers review the document.

Mayor Brown said he's pleased that Croce is proceeding with plans to buy the Statler, as opposed to having the city take title to the property -- an option that had been considered up until a week ago.

If public entities can agree to the waivers by the next bankruptcy court hearing scheduled for Feb. 22, the Statler sale could close in late March.

But Croce's plan is far from finalized. He told the Council last week that before he can start a phased-in redevelopment that would revive the first floor and mezzanine, $5.3 million in public funds must be secured to make emergency repairs.

Most Council members favor the city playing some financial role, but they stressed that the state and possibly even the federal government would have to help foot the tab.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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