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Council aims to ease Statler rescue

The Common Council is expected to unanimously approve a plan today that would make it easier for a developer to take over the Statler Towers in an effort to redevelop the complex.

All nine Council members have told The Buffalo News that they will support a plan that would see the City of Buffalo agree to not push for back taxes or other expenses from the Statler bankruptcy estate. Instead, the city would pursue the debts after they become an obligation of the building's new buyer.

While some would view the matter as a legal technicality, Mayor Byron W. Brown said, the waiver is important to get trustees "comfortable" with a proposed sale of the 18-story downtown landmark.

Council members disclosed their support for the waiver after meeting Monday with City Strategic Planning Director Brendan R. Mehaffy.

"We're not waiving back taxes," Mehaffy assured lawmakers. "We're not waiving [security] fence claims. We are not waiving anything."

University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said she is pleased that there's a contingency in the agreement that would allow the city to renew its claim against the Statler's bankruptcy estate in the event the structure isn't transferred to a new owner.

The debts include $190,000 in property tax claims and $34,000 in costs the city absorbed to install fencing and barricades around the Niagara Square edifice. The security measures were taken to prevent pedestrians from falling debris.

The state-appointed control board that oversees city finances must also sign off on the waiver. In addition, Erie County, the Buffalo Sewer Authority and the city's Water Board must approve similar waivers for other obligations. Officials hope that all entities will agree to the waivers by the next U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing scheduled for Feb. 22.

Developer Mark D. Croce was in City Hall on Monday to meet some officials. Croce has formed Statler City LLC, a company that is trying to acquire the property. But Croce's plan to revive the building in phases -- starting with the first floor and the mezzanine, is contingent on public entities' committing $5.3 million to make emergency repairs he says are needed to stabilize the structure.

The mayor has said repeatedly that before the city would agree to help finance such repairs, he needs to see a detailed redevelopment plan for the Statler.

Croce's company isn't the only entity eyeing the once-opulent hotel. Long Island-based developer Uri Kaufman and local resident Bruce L. Biltekoff have continued to show interest in the Statler.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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