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Buffalo Grand Hotel owner shifts plans as Wright chapel gains approval

Harry Stinson has lowered his sights on his Buffalo Grand Hotel, though he's still keen on the project.

The Canadian developer – who bought the former Adam's Mark Hotel a year ago – still wants his $30 million transformation to raise the bar on the quality and service of the city's largest hotel.

But after spending the past year getting to know both the hotel and the Buffalo marketplace, he now admits that he may have been aiming a little too high.

"I think I had a different impression upfront," he said. "I was thinking more in terms of a four-star, like we'll make this into the Plaza Hotel of Buffalo. In hindsight, I think that was probably a misplaced destination."

Now, he said, he sees it as what it's been – a large, midrange hospitality facility, in a city with an abundance of small hotels, where rates are typically $100 to $200 per night.

"It's a group hotel, and in a way, it's been useful having the time to really grasp what it is," he said. "I did not think it would take this long, but appreciating its role in the community has been awhile."

Instead, he said, his plan "has evolved into something that's closer to Disney than Four Seasons," calling it more of a destination and citing the "more casual and friendly" nature of Disney hotels.

"They really do it well. You have a good time there. But they don't expect you to dress up in a tuxedo for dinner," Stinson explained.

"Shooting for the very high end is a natural, but the reality is it's a very small part of the market, and this is a very large hotel, and the people who are coming in are largely coming in for events," he said.

Still, that plays right into his latest investment. On Monday, Stinson received approval from the Buffalo Planning Board to construct a wedding chapel addition to the Buffalo Grand, based on a 1957 design by Frank Lloyd Wright for a hotel in California.

That follows receipt of variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Wright design – which was never built for the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley – features an elevated, round, glass-enclosed wedding chapel of about 30 feet in diameter, perched on stilts one story above a ground-level garden.

The freestanding addition would be constructed as an extension that juts out from a balcony on the brick portion of the Buffalo Grand, along the wing that extends toward the Skyway from the main concrete building.

That would also connect it to the banquet facility of the hotel, which "it's intended to augment," said Patrick Mahoney of Lauer-Manguso Associates Architects and Engineers, a Wright expert.

A green copper skybridge would link the chapel to the balcony. A 70-foot green copper spire would reach skyward, while an array of green metal spears descend from peaked roofs above the windows toward the ground.

"It's small, but it's going to be the most distinct part of the hotel," Stinson said. "It will be the logo of the hotel. It will be the selfie part of the hotel. It just lends itself to that."

Mahoney said the next step will be completing construction drawings over the next four months, using preliminary designs that Wright's engineers did 62 years ago. "We may get into the ground before the end of the year, but I think the bulk of the construction will be the end of the year and into next year," he said.

Meanwhile, the developer is continuing his renovation of the 39-year-old hotel, which opened in 1980 as a Hilton. His plan is to restore the hotel – with 486 rooms, 72,000-square-feet of meeting space, a 600-seat restaurant and more than 500 parking spaces – with a significant focus on conventions, events and hospitality.

He's bringing a 300-seat comedy club to the hotel, to be operated by Toronto-based Yuk Yuk's International Stand Up Comedy Clubs Inc., with three nights of comedy on the weekends and a mixture of music, movie nights or other events on other days. That's slated to open in September.

Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired wedding chapel set for Buffalo Grand Hotel

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