The new owner of the Statler Towers says he's committed to transforming the mothballed complex into the "grande dame of downtown," and there's now curbside evidence that the project is moving forward.
Crews hauled away ugly concrete barriers Wednesday that had forced pedestrians off the sidewalks on the Delaware Avenue side of the Statler.
For more than a year and a half, passers-by were forced to walk along a barricaded path off the curb because of concerns about falling pieces of the Statler's decorative cornice.
The barriers were replaced with a covered protective walkway that allows pedestrians to return to the sidewalks. Masonry experts will begin exterior repairs next Wednesday, said Statler Towers owner Mark D. Croce.
"Structurally, the building is very sound. It's in excellent condition," Croce said. "The terra cotta [exterior] is more of an ornamental attachment that needs to be dealt with."
The sidewalk protection on Delaware will remain in place for at least eight months, according to Croce. "We're hoping to have it done before winter -- at least the Delaware Avenue facade -- so we can have everything that you see from Delaware looking as beautiful as it once was," he said.
Professionals will use a preservation-sensitive process to stabilize the facade, Croce said.
While the sidewalk on Delaware has been reopened to pedestrians, some other stretches of the sidewalk outside the Statler remain off-limits, including the walkway that fronts Niagara Square.
A downtown resident who identified himself only as Carl watched Wednesday as crews removed the concrete barriers along Delaware. He has a hard time walking due to a disability, he said, and the barriers that steered people off the sidewalks made his frequent treks down Delaware even more trying.
"They were nasty," he said of the barricades. "Even people who weren't handicapped had a hard time."
Inside the cavernous structure, about 30 workers have been busy working on elevator upgrades and other renovations as Croce begins the first steps in a multiphase redevelopment plan. The initial phase will involve renovations of the main and mezzanine floors. Croce plans to host some events by late summer in the now-vacant downtown icon.
Mayor Byron W. Brown and City Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak joined Croce at Wednesday's news conference. Stepniak said Croce has been carefully following all city permit policies.
"He really wants to get this project fast-tracked, and I know the city does as well," Stepniak said.
Brown said it's gratifying to see tangible progress occurring at a complex that is across the street from City Hall and the new federal courthouse.
Croce bought the Statler two months ago, after it had been in bankruptcy proceedings for two years.