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Mayor backs $5.3 million public outlay for Statler; Says he will recommend state funds for renovation

Mayor Byron W. Brown said Tuesday that he supports spending $5.3 million in public funds to help refurbish the historic Statler Towers.

Brown previously had said the city wanted to review a comprehensive plan for the entire building and evidence of businessman Mark D. Croce's personal investment in the Statler City project before committing any public money.

After taking a tour of the property Tuesday afternoon, and after previously reviewing Croce's plans, Brown said he will recommend that the state allocate the funds for the ongoing renovation of the downtown icon.

"I have to say I am absolutely blown away by the progress that I've seen so far," the mayor said. "It's nothing short of amazing what has been done and what has been accomplished and the vision that Mark has presented for the future of this great structure in the heart of downtown Buffalo."

The $5.3 million, which Croce had previously requested from the city, would be used to stabilize the building's exterior, which, in turn, helps preserve public safety, officials said.

Croce said he has spent about $1.5 million so far and will have spent about $3 million by the end of the year.

About three years ago, $15 million in economic-development funding was allocated to the city by the State Dormitory Authority, Brown administration officials said, and the $5.3 million would come out of that allocation.

In order to access the funds, an application must be approved by the state.

With the information from Croce's business plan, as well as the renovations observed during Tuesday's tour, Brown said he feels "very comfortable" recommending the funds for the Statler.

"This is a project that is in progress right now," he said. "This is a project where something is happening."

Brown said that he did not believe that the move requires Common Council approval but that it would be looked at by the state-appointed financial control board.

Croce said he expects to have hired about 200 employees -- from servers to food service workers to cleaners -- by the end of the year.

There are about 70 construction workers currently on the project, he said.

The 18-story Statler, which opened in 1923, was mothballed in January 2010, and Croce officially took control of the Niagara Square property March 16.

Croce paid about $700,000 for the building, including $200,000 for the property and about $500,000 for unpaid taxes. His plans include revamping the basement, first floor and mezzanine. The space will be turned into banquet rooms, a nightclub, meeting areas, retailing and restaurants.

Croce's building -- which last weekend hosted the Buffalo Irish Festival as its first public event since renovations began -- is scheduled to hold its grand opening on New Year's Eve with the Ice Ball.

Tickets for the event go on sale Thursday. Tickets will be available through ticketmaster.com and statlercity.com.

More than 50 weddings have been booked -- with the first scheduled for Oct. 8 -- and plans also include a Halloween party and events tied in with the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference coming to the city in October.

Croce -- who said he wants to make the building a multidimensional entertainment complex -- said he has talked with potential tenants who would like to locate in Statler City. Those include a group from the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, as well as some restaurants, plus a "high-profile" tenant looking at taking part of the panoramic 18th floor.

The building also has the potential to be used for convention space in conjunction with events at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, he said.

The basement nightclub will be about 10,000 square feet, decorated in black and hot pink. Croce has previously described it as a "high-end, sophisticated, sexy nightclub" recalling the cabaret era when the building originally opened.

Croce's plans for the building include 7-foot, 50-year-old French statues depicting the four seasons in the lobby. Those are but one element developed with Paul LaMorticella, of Williamsville's Dream Designs, longtime decorator for Croce's businesses.

"It wasn't a year ago where there were folks talking about taking down this iconic landmark, which has so much embedded historic value," Croce said. "It would have been criminal."

email: abesecker@buffnews.com