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Termini shows off successes of a revitalized Hotel Lafayette; Developer, lawmakers urge raising cap on state historic tax credits

Rocco Termini on Thursday proudly showed off the restoration of the Hotel Lafayette that is nearing completion.

The main ballroom will soon host an event. A boutique hotel is taking shape on the second floor. On the upper floors, 85 of the 115 apartments are already leased. Retailers and other businesses are preparing to move in.

Termini said the property's $43 million transformation would not have been possible without state historic tax credits.

"To do this kind of detailed restoration, you cannot do it with conventional financing. You need this kind of help," the developer said.

Termini was joined by four state lawmakers at the hotel to call for raising the per-project cap on state historic tax credits to $12 million from the current $5 million.

Raising the maximum "increases the number of properties that developers would likely rehabilitate under this program," said State Sen. Mark Grisanti, who attended along with Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, State Sen. Tim Kennedy and Assemblyman Sean Ryan.

Ryan said the tax credits allow for private investment in historic buildings like the Hotel Lafayette.

"[If] you look at this deal without the tax credits, it doesn't make sense," Ryan said. "There was two generations of deferred maintenance on this building. The building was in rough shape."

Termini said the Hotel Lafayette received a combined $16 million in state and federal historic tax credits.

About 270 people are working at the site to finish the project. Once the complex opens, about 200 people will work there, at various businesses inside.

Julian Adams, senior historic restoration coordinator with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, called the Hotel Lafayette project "absolute economic development."

"That's what we like to see, these buildings earning their keep, getting a new life, going back on the tax rolls and providing jobs, both new construction and afterward, and keeping the character of Buffalo so people can understand the history of the city now and into the future," Adams said.

The tax credit program "is not the state spending money," Adams said. "This is incentivizing private investment. Without the credit, this project would not have happened. The money that Mr. Termini is putting into this building would not have come into this building."

The tax credits also can become an investment opportunity that helps move the projects along, Adams said. Many times, limited partnerships on larger projects will sell the credits they are awarded to a pool of investors. "Very rarely do people have enough money to use the entire thing."

Termini said that once a project is certified as having been completed according to historic guidelines, "we then sell the tax credits to large corporations." The corporations use the credits to reduce their taxes, and the developers use the money to off-set the costs of the project.

Termini said demand from companies to buy the credits is strong, and that Buffalo has gained attention for its historic properties because of the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference held here last October.

A grand opening of the Hotel Lafayette is scheduled for May 29, but portions of the complex will open earlier than that. Termini led a tour and pointed out how much workers had restored the grandeur of the main ballroom.

"This had no ceiling on it," he said, standing in the spacious room as sunlight poured through the windows. "There were holes in it, the floors were all buckled. The ceiling leaked in here for 40 years."

Niagara University has a fund-raising event planned for the ballroom in two weeks, Termini said.

Termini said the same kind of painstaking work undertaken at the Hotel Lafayette could be carried out elsewhere, with help from the tax credits.

"Everything you see here could be redone at the [former] AM&A's and the Trico," he said. "And that's the argument for not tearing down these buildings."