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A landmark's return, oh, so grand Newly renovated Hotel @ the Lafayette draws admiration at its public reopening

A well-heeled and sartorially resplendent crowd turned out Tuesday for the grand opening of the newly renovated Hotel @ the Lafayette, a formerly dilapidated downtown landmark that was rescued from the brink by developer Rocco R. Termini.

The men, most of whom were dressed in black tie and tuxedos, and the women, many in black cocktail dresses and some wearing ball gowns, meshed well with the elegantly appointed environs of the restored hotel. The extravagant plaster work throughout is among the highlights of the renovated building.

"The walls are scagliola [plaster], but the base is marble, because if you kick it with your feet, it won't break," Termini said as he conducted an impromptu tour of the restored first-floor hallway.

"It's the jewel of Buffalo. People are absolutely shocked when they walk in the door and see this," Termini added.

Gerri DiRe, of Clarence, was among those pleasantly stunned by the $42 million transformation. DiRe was also among the few attending Tuesday's event who even had a recollection of the inside of the building before it was shuttered for nearly four decades.

"I'm originally from Niagara Falls, and our Catholic Youth Organization years ago had a convention here, and I thought: 'Oh, my goodness. I'm going to Buffalo and staying overnight at the Hotel Lafayette," DiRie said. "And we had a picture taken in the hallway and I [recently] looked at it and it looks almost identical."

After years of planning the financing for the renovation, copious guidance by architectural firm Carmina Wood Morris and months of painstaking restoration work, Termini, dressed in a white dinner jacket, was eager to show off the results. He was gratified to soak in the compliments and accolades.

"You know, there's very few people that have been in here to see the before, because this was boarded up for 40 years," Termini said as he ushered a guest into the Crystal Ballroom, which will be used for small banquets.

"You know how many artifacts we've gotten from people for free? The original piano: Free. The original pool table: Free. Pictures. I have so many pictures of people's parents that got married here. I even have a bill from a wedding [that took place at the hotel] in 1945."

In the Crystal Ballroom, guests were treated to an assortment of Viennese desserts and pastries, including croquembouche from Butterwood Desserts, a new tenant in the building. Owner Claire Bacon showed off a centerpiece, six-tiered cake that references the various plaster molding featured on the walls throughout the hotel.

"If you look at it, it's got all the detailing from every room of the restoration," Bacon said.

In a larger ballroom, the J.J. Swing Band played as guests dined on pea curried Texas white prawns and lobster bisque with smoked cheddar and goat cheese croutons, also courtesy of Butterwood.

Among the guests were Chris Hogan of R and P Oak Hill of Hamburg, lead contractor for the reconstruction; Tony Adinolfe of Gypsum Systems of Elma, which was in charge of all the plaster restoration; and Judy Rider, of Sherry Upholstery & Drapery, who did all of the drapery.

"I was born in the shadow of this building, and I watched downtown fall apart," said Rider, who was raised on North Division and Swan streets.

"I told Rocco that it is so special to me to be able to part of his project in refurbishing this beautiful building," Rider said.

The seven-story, brick and white terra-cotta building includes a 34-room boutique hotel, with each room containing a different wall-sized image from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo. There are 115 apartments, of which 95 already have been rented, as well as a new taproom bar and restaurant and space for wedding receptions. The project was made possible with historic tax credits.

Mayor Byron W. Brown, dressed in business attire, attended Tuesday's opening straight from work.

"I'm very proud that the city was able to support the project to the tune of about $1.1 million, with a low-interest loan and infrastructure support, sidewalks, curbs, lighting," Brown said, "and our building inspectors were able to assist in expediting permits."