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Croce to take ownership of Statler Public ceremony planned today in lobby of the building

After being mired in a bankruptcy case for nearly two years, the Statler Towers is about to take the next step in its storied history.

Developer Mark D. Croce announced he will take ownership of the 18-story Niagara Square landmark at a public ceremony at 2 p.m. today in the lobby of the building.

"It has been a long and winding road to get to this point, and this most important historic asset finally has a chance of new life being breathed into its grand and glorious structure," a notice of the ceremony says.

While access inside the Statler will be limited, Croce said people might enjoy getting a firsthand look at a property that has generated so much discussion. The Statler has been mothballed since January 2010.

"I think when they see it, they'll see what a crime it would have been if we hadn't been able to save it," Croce said.

Morris L. Horwitz, the trustee in the Statler bankruptcy case, will execute the deed officially transferring ownership of the Statler. A private courier will hand-deliver the deed to the Erie County Clerk's Office to be recorded.

The invited guests include Mayor Byron W. Brown, County Executive Chris Collins and Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen.

Henry McCartney, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, said Croce's purchase provides a dual benefit: sparing the property from an uncertain fate in bankruptcy court and putting it on a path to revival.

"The more positive thing is, it's in the hands of a sympathetic owner who wants to move it forward," McCartney said.

Croce wants to revive the Statler in stages, starting with the lowermost floors. He also is seeking about $5.3 million in public funds for immediate repairs he says are necessary, such as fixing leaking roofs.

Brown previously has said he has identified a funding source to support the Statler but also said he wants to see a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the complex before making any commitments.

The Statler's future has been uncertain at times over the past couple of years. In April 2009, Bashar Issa's BSC Development of Buffalo was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. An auction was held that summer, but high bidder New Buffalo Statler Redevelopment failed to close the $1.3 million deal. The property was emptied of tenants and was shut down in January 2010.

Without a new owner in sight, questions arose about whether the Statler might be abandoned or eventually demolished. Prospective buyers expressed interest, and ideas for reuse were floated, but a deal failed to materialize.

A pivotal moment came in August 2010, when another sale of the Statler was held. Croce and business partner James Eagan, whom Croce later bought out, were deemed the only qualified bidder. Statler City's deal is worth about $700,000, including $200,000 for the building and about $500,000 in unpaid taxes for which it will assume responsibility.

Croce, known for his ownership of downtown properties, including restaurants like the Chop House and parking lots, is taking on a property full of history as well as challenges.

The Statler opened in 1923 and was once the largest hotel in Ellsworth M. Statler's national chain. It holds a prestigious place in Buffalo history and occupies a prominent spot in the downtown landscape, near City Hall.

But the complex is in dire need of an overhaul and has a vast amount of space to fill. Croce has outlined a plan that would redevelop the upper floors gradually, as market demand dictates, after getting the lower floors up and running again.

While the Statler sale is about to be completed, the bankruptcy case involving BSC Development of Buffalo will continue, with a number of issues to be resolved. Issa, who bought the Statler almost five years ago, is believed to be living in Dubai.


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