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Statler owner extends warm welcome? to hospitality students from Cornell

We're all familiar with Ellsworth M. Statler, the hotel pioneer whose Statler Towers is now being restored to its former glory at Niagara Square.

But you may not know that Statler is also credited for helping build one of the most respected hospitality management programs in the world at Cornell University.

The two Statler legacies collided this weekend in Buffalo, when more than 30 Cornell students traveled from Ithaca to get a glimpse of the former flagship of the Statler chain.

"It's been quite an eye-opener," Cornell junior Kelsie Taylor said, as she toured the mammoth downtown building on Saturday. "This property is just so beautiful and there's so much potential here."

The Cornell contingent was invited to Buffalo by Statler owner Mark Croce, who wants to develop a more formal relationship with the university's School of Hotel Administration, considered by many as the best program of its kind in the U.S.

Croce – who was introduced to the school's dean by Buffalo businessman Richard Fors – would like to bring Cornell students to intern at the Statler, and tap into the school's vast expertise to help further the building's redevelopment.

Croce wants to work with Cornell to "resurrect the Statler brand."

"What I'd like to see is for Cornell to stay very engaged in Buffalo and Western New York and this property in particular, because of the tie-in with Statler," Croce said. "What better school to have some type of adjunct relationship with than Cornell, where the roots of the program started with Statler?"

Cornell founded the first collegiate program in hospitality management in 1922, and set out to create a first-rate institution with the help of industry leaders like Statler.

In 1927, the hotel magnate was invited to attend a conference organized by students of the Cornell program, but Statler was skeptical and thought a career in hospitality was best suited to learning on the job, according to school's website.

But by the end of the conference, Cornell's hotel program had won over Statler.

Although Statler died the following year, he and his wife, Alice, became the school's greatest benefactors, donating millions through the Statler Foundation.

Today, the Cornell campus includes Statler Hall, the Alice Statler Auditorium and the Statler Hotel – the only other Statler hotel in the nation.

"Mr. Statler was the embodiment, and still is the embodiment, of service and hospitality," said Giuseppe Pezzotti, senior lecturer in the School of Hotel Administration, who toured the Statler with the students. "He's always been our role model for the faculty and for the students."

The students arrived on Friday, when they were welcomed with a reception.

They got a glimpse of the city and a personal tour of the Statler Towers by Croce, who talked to them about the restoration project and the other real estate opportunities in Buffalo.

"It's such a cool project that he's undertaking," said Chad Wemischner, a Cornell senior. "This is really sort of the history as to why the school exists."