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Albany needs to help revive downtown

Yes, we can do more of this. Yes, we can repeat the story of the old Hotel Lafayette, time and again, the revived buildings strung out like pearls on a downtown necklace.

Some of Buffalo's largest resources sit empty, hiding in plain sight, awaiting full or partial revival. They are not eyesores or headaches. They are steps to a better future. If we hadn't seen it before, it's impossible -- even for revival-resistant Albany politicians -- to ignore it now.

Splashed in full color across the front page of Wednesday's News was glorious evidence of the Hotel Lafayette's $42 million resurrection to its news identity: Hotel @ the Lafayette. What a few years ago was a flophouse notorious for room fires sparked by smoldering crack pipes is now a regional jewel. Developer Rocco Termini and cohorts, in the last year, reinjected grandeur to the 1904 landmark.

A building that two years ago was ready for the wrecking ball -- Termini implanted steel to save outer walls -- now is Exhibit A of aesthetically inspiring, economically sensible restoration. Nearly done, the refurbished chandelier-glittering ballrooms and tiled floors of the coming hotel/apartment/restaurant/banquet building trumpet a transformation from debacle to destination.

"The next time Tom Brady's parents come to town," Termini told me Wednesday, standing in the Lafayette's lobby, "they can stay here, for free."

The gift will keep giving. The Lafayette's resurrection brings, among other things, 150 permanent jobs.

"That is what this, ultimately, is about -- jobs," said Termini, the buttoned-down preppy developer whose pastel-hued sweaters drape an iron will.

Jobs. It is the inescapable four-letter word in Buffalo. It is the reason Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the 212 state legislators should look at the Lafayette as not just a triumph, but a template.

The only way that the hits keep coming is if Albany ups the ante, according to Termini and other downtown-devoted developers.

No one can save the buildings of Buffalo's past -- and its future -- without help. We are not New York City, where the costs of restoration are similar, but the returns -- one-bedroom apartments command upward of $3,000 a month -- are greater.

A one-bedroom in the Lafayette goes for $895. It takes longer here to refill investor pockets. Upfront help is the difference between resurrection and rot.

The Lafayette resurrected only because historic tax credits made the deal doable, Termini said. Albany maxes out tax credits at $5 million. If Washington had not come through with $8 million, the Lafayette would today be rubble.

Upstate developers have pounded Albany for years to raise the historic tax-credit ceiling. A slew of needy Buffalo buildings are waiting: Trico. The long-empty AM&A's. Most of the Statler. Richardson Towers. And on and on.

"As soon as the [tax credit] cap is lifted to $12 million," Termini told me, "I'm ready to start work on the AM&A's."

Do the AM&A's, on the same street as the Lafayette, and you have a mini-neighborhood.

"You would have 400 people living on this block," Termini said. "That's what you need, to support shops and restaurants."

Downtown revival lures suburban residents not just to play, but to stay. It sparks business and slows suburban sprawl. The resources are there, awaiting resurrection.

The tax-credit bill is further along in the Senate than in the Assembly. Cuomo supposedly will sign on, if it gets to him. For us, the help can't come soon enough.

Termini walked Wednesday through an army of hard-hatted, dust-covered workers. What he envisioned years ago has come to pass. Buffalo is better because of it.

All this town needs is a chance.