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Statler's owner: 2017 should be a 'watershed' year

Since the building's reopening six years ago, the Statler's history and grandeur has made it the premier downtown destination for large weddings and other events.

While the luster of the ballrooms and other interior spaces on the three restored levels of the former hotel are evident, work on the outside of Statler City has lagged. But changes could come in 2017, said Mark Croce, the building's owner.

"We had to do stabilization on the exterior first, and now we can work our way down to the pretty stuff — the things people see when they drive by," Croce said. "Depending on available funds, our next phase will be to come up with the redesign of the historic marquees and the front entrance way. This year should be a watershed moment to actually see what's happening on the outside of the building."

Getting there required less-noticeable but essential improvements. A two-year, $1 million masonry project stabilized the terra cotta exterior. An engineering company recently declared it structurally sound, which will allow the remaining scaffolding to be removed.

Replacing the main roof — about 40,000 square feet, nearly the size of a football field without the end zones — is expected to open to bidding in the spring, with work starting in the summer. That follows the replacement of seven lower roofs.

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"Those are things people don't see, so when you go by you don't necessarily know work is going on," Croce said. "Once the entrance way and marquees are up, people will say, 'Wow, that's a magnificent building.' "

The Lobby Bar at Statler City in Buffalo. Click on the photo to view more images from inside the Statler. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Croce's rescue of the Statler came as concerns were mounting that the deteriorating building could face demolition.

Croce said he has spent around $7 million in private funds on the building, and after delays was able to begin using a $5 million reimbursable state grant in 2016. He purchased the building for $700,000 in March 2011.

Croce hopes the work on the building's exterior will have the added benefit of enticing investors, including those he's heard from in New York City and elsewhere. He said the building is debt-free, owes no back taxes, doesn't have a large mortgage like most properties its size and is well-positioned for development.

"I think once we fix the curb appeal we will really attract a lot of attention," Croce said. "There's not too much building stock that has this grand appeal. We are definitely hoping to find a partner to tackle the whole building itself, and the pieces we are doing now will only open the door to expanding the group of interested parties."

Some of the work down on the facade of Statler City. Click on the photo to see more images from the hotel. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Croce said he hoped to bring back a hospitality component, but he believes the downtown hotel market has become "saturated."

"It may become a mixed-use with some commercial, and primarily residential, because there is a big demand for quality residential," he said.

Croce also wants to honor Ellsworth Statler, the hotelier who opened the downtown Hotel Statler with 1,100 guest rooms in May 1923. Croce called him "the creator of the hospitality movement," and he hopes to collaborate with someone to create a space in the building that presents Statler's life's story and includes artifacts.

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