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A new day; With transfer of ownership, Statler has its best chance at revival

Finally!

That's the overarching sentiment for those who care about preserving the Statler Towers and its prominent place on Niagara Square. The historic building has been placed in new hands. After months of planning and frustration, local restaurateur and developer Marc Croce has taken over the Statler.

Finally.

Dozens witnessed last week's deed-signing ceremony -- including preservationists, politicians and the trustee in the bankruptcy case. The county clerk herself recorded the document.

There was no heat in the Grand Ballroom entrance where the signing ceremony took place, but no one cared. The Statler has been mothballed since January 2010 with only glimpses for most into the building's interior.

Still, as far as anyone was concerned, it may have well been the ballroom of an earlier century with ladies and gentlemen dressed for an invitation-only occasion. In a sense, that's exactly what took place almost a century after construction.

The deal is reportedly worth about $700,000, including $200,000 for the property and about $500,000 in unpaid taxes for which Croce's entity assumed responsibility. It will take a lot more before the job is done.

The former Hotel Statler fell on hard times long ago and began to deteriorate. So-called saviors arrived. Bashar Issa, in particular, flew in from England in 2006 with grand plans for rescuing the building. But it all collapsed two years later under the weight of Issa's declining multinational real estate empire. Instead of reviving the hotel, it fell deeper into disrepair and became a safety hazard.

It will take millions of dollars to restore the structure, and Croce has asked for $5.3 million in public funds to cover immediate costs. To that end, he promises to provide a more detailed plan to the city. That's important; the city should be a willing partner, but it must be a partner in a clearly laid out plan that stands a good chance of succeeding.

Indeed, Mayor Byron W. Brown signaled some hope for the city finding a source of potential public funds to support the Statler. However, he's right when he says, "but we're not just opening the checkbook and turning over money."

It's a sentiment appreciated by the new owner, who is a city taxpayer himself.

Croce first has to stabilize the structure and that will take time and money. Then comes resuscitation, starting with the reopening of the lower floors for businesses and then redeveloping the upper floors, based on market demand. So the plan goes.

The Statler has seen a lot since its 1908 opening, not much of it good lately. Hopefully, Wednesday's signing ceremony marked a new beginning for one of Buffalo's treasures.

We frequently decry Buffalo's political and private sector leadership. So, it is rewarding when we can point to a local leader taking initiative in an important project, particularly when no one else stepped in to save the day.

Croce may not be among the top private sector leaders one normally thinks of, but in the case of the Statler, he has put up a large sum of money and committed himself to a risky and arduous task. He is to be congratulated.

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