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Developers with vision Major renovation projects in WNY demonstrate hidden potential

Don't ever let anyone tell you good things can't happen in Western New York. True, we have a habit of getting in our own way around here, but things do happen. Look no farther than Buffalo's Niagara Square and the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda. There, testaments to success are fast taking shape.

In Buffalo, the Statler Towers was last year at risk of demolition, which would have cost the city one of its historic, signature buildings. In its place at that premier location: maybe a parking lot.

Patience and creativity paid off and, Buffalo developer Mark Croce has begun returning the Statler to its former glory. The public will get a look at the work starting today when the doors open for the Buffalo Irish Festival. Croce's goals are as big as the building: to return the Statler to its origins in the hospitality industry and make it "the go-to place in almost all of New York State outside of Manhattan."

The building deserves that status and if Croce can imagine it, then who's to doubt him, given what he has achieved already? No doubt obstacles will arise, but the building was saved and is in better shape today than it was a year ago.

Just north, another city that has taken it on the chin over the decades is at serious risk of becoming cool. In North Tonawanda, the old Reminington Rand factory, underused and deterioriating, brooded over the Erie Canal for decades, an emblem of Rust Belt blight.

Today, thanks to the vision of New York City developer Tony Kissling, the building has been transformed into the Remington Lofts on the Canal. There are 81 loft apartments, renting for $1,200 to $1,500 a month, putting the lie to reports of the city's death. The building also features a roof garden with Wi-Fi, a yoga center, a salon and school for hair stylists and the Remington Tavern, to be run by the chefs of two of Buffalo's finest restaurants, Hutch's and Tempo.

Maybe aging has something to do with it. Just as vintage clothing has acquired a certain cachet, so perhaps does longevity in the midst of struggle. That and a vision -- and $28 million -- can go a long way.

Government has a role to play in all of this, too, of course. The state's new historic preservation tax credit law was key to Rocco Termini's latest project, renovating Buffalo's Lafayette Hotel. That law almost didn't happen, showing that while government is a necessary partner, it needs consistent prodding.

Buffalo is fortunate to have homegrown developers like Croce and Termini, entrepreneurs who see possibilities that others do not. And the region is fortunate, too, to have attracted the notice of Kissling, who also saw potential where others saw only decline.