Douglas Jemal is adding to his hotel collection by agreeing to purchase the Mansion on Delaware, six months after the death of the founder and lead owner of the prominent boutique hotel on the northern edge of downtown Buffalo.
Jemal did not say how much he would pay to acquire the elite 28-room Mansion, but said he has just put it under contract, with a closing expected in the next couple of weeks. He said he plans to maintain it as is, with the same operations team, citing its success and uniqueness.
"It's going to stay exactly the same way," Jemal said. "It's very well-run. The management people are going to stay in place."
For now at least, that includes Geno and Diana Principe, the proprietors of the luxury hotel, who are also co-owners of InnVest Lodging Services, the hospitality company founded and led by Dennis P. Murphy until he died in early February.
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Jemal – who previously stepped in to take over another former specialty hotel that was started and run by Innvest, the Hotel Henry, after its business was decimated during the pandemic – said the Principes approached him about a sale.
"When Dennis passed, they decided they didn't want to be in the hotel business any longer," Jemal said. "I took a look at it, and I liked it."
Moreover, he added, it "fit into what I was trying to do."
"The opportunity arose, and I’m obviously in the hospitality business," said the Washington, D.C.-based developer, who also owns the Hyatt Regency Buffalo and the Statler, and is working to convert a former state office building on Niagara Square into a boutique hotel.
"It’s a very, very unique, very nice piece of property, and it happens to be very well-run. I felt it fit into the overall hospitality venue that we have created in Buffalo," Jemal said.
However, Murphy's daughter, Shannon, said her parents, along with the Principes, had "made the hard decision to pursue selling the hotel solely due to the ramifications that the pandemic has caused to the hospitality industry."
"We believe that the intention and mission of The Mansion on Delaware Avenue will continue with Douglas Jemal and his team at the helm," Shannon Murphy said. "Our priority was keeping Dennis’s legacy alive while honoring his wishes."
Located at 414 Delaware Ave., at the corner of Edward Street, just north of the Buffalo Club, the Mansion on Delaware is known for its architectural detail, its white-shoe service, and its old-fashioned team of tuxedoed butlers that attend to the needs of its guests. The three-story Second Empire-style building features a mansard roof, tall arches, columns, cornices and even gargoyles, and includes nearly 200 windows, 15-foot ceilings and a modern decor.
Designed by George M. Allison and built from 1869 to 1870, the 20,000-square-foot home was originally constructed by industrialist Charles F. Sternberg – who owned a grain elevator on Ohio Street – for his bride, but he died before it was completed. It then became the home for William H. Gratwick, a lumber baron, who later built a bigger home at 776 Delaware, designed by H.H. Richardson. It was also owned by a Civil War veteran, Col. John Condit Smith.
In the 1880s, the Sternberg Mansion was acquired by Samuel Curtis Trubee, who expanded it and turned it into a 100-room hotel, which operated during the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. Then, after World War II, it was purchased in 1945 by restaurateur Hugo DiGiulio, who converted it into the Victor Hugo Wine Cellar restaurant, which continued until it closed in 1977.
Murphy – a national hospitality veteran who came back to his hometown after working as an executive at the predecessor to Wyndham – started InnVest in 1990, and teamed up with the Principes to buy the abandoned building in 1997. They spent $2.7 million on a renovation, and reopened it as the Mansion on Delaware in 2001.
With various rooms and suites starting at $200 a night, it has a four-diamond rating from AAA, is ranked among the top U.S. hotels by Zagats, and was designated as a landmark by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2011.
"It’s a very special piece of property. It’s a gem," Jemal said.
The purchase adds to Jemal's growing portfolio of residential, commercial and hospitality properties in Buffalo, as the developer seeks to build critical mass in the city's downtown to make it more attractive as a place to live and visit. "It’s a work in progress," he said. "It's very important that we present our city in the light that it should be presented, as a first-class city. These venues give me the opportunity to do that."
Jemal is undertaking a major renovation of the Hyatt – including the guest rooms, banquet facilities, lobby, bar and atrium. He's designing plans for a boutique hotel at the former Mahoney State Office Building, and is redeveloping the mostly empty upper floors of the Statler into apartments and another boutique hotel. And the new Richardson, an independent hotel in the Richardson-Olmsted complex that replaces Hotel Henry, will open by October.
He's also expecting to start construction by September or October on a nine-story parking ramp and apartment building inside the Skyway loop at 61 Terrace, now that he received approval from the state, which owned part of the property along the Niagara Thruway.