Douglas Jemal doesn't know how to hit the brakes.
The Washington, D.C., developer expects to start work soon on converting the upper floors of the Statler into 600 to 700 apartments, while also taking over and reopening the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, and rebranding and reopening Hotel Henry under a new name.
And he's still renovating the basement of the Statler, finishing the 130-unit Police Apartments and adding 33 more apartments at Seneca One.
The city is asking the Common Council this week to amend that grant disbursement agreement to substitute Douglas Jemal's company for Mark Croce's.
Jemal said he intends to submit plans to the city this fall for his proposed nine-story apartment building and parking ramp project at 61 Terrace, in the midst of a downtown highway loop.
"Absolutely, full speed ahead," the Washington developer said Tuesday during a press conference with Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown at the Statler. "Don't put in any speed cameras."
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Jemal, who unveiled a series of exterior facade repairs and renovations at the Statler, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on several projects in Buffalo.
He started with his $200 million redevelopment of Seneca One, where he's refilling the formerly empty 38-story office tower with a technology base anchored by M&T Bank Corp., plus apartments, a brewery, retail shops and entertainment options. His first 115 apartments are almost all leased, so he's adding another 33 units there. He's also transforming the former Buffalo Police headquarters into 130 apartments.
"This is a great day in Buffalo and I want to keep the momentum going, because we can do it," Jemal said. "I’m really proud to be standing here today and be part of the Buffalo community."
And he and Paul Millstein, his executive vice president at Douglas Development Corp., are just getting started. "All the development that Paul and I have done, we’ve taken properties that had nothing going, and we created something," Jemal told reporters. "I feel I could bring something to the city, and I want to do it."
Jemal's firm and its contractors are currently tackling the basement of the Statler, where the hotel had back-of-house functions such as ice-making, laundry, a butcher shop, a woodshop, a tool-making shop and a medical center. "This place, when it was built, it was ingeniously self-contained," he said. "They really had everything in here, and that was serving the hotel."
Workers have completed asbestos abatement, but are now taking out the old pipes and machinery and opening up the space for reuse, possibly for amenities or expanded convention space. "What we took on is what you don’t see," Jemal said, comparing it to open-heart surgery. "I want to really look at the design and flow of the building, making the whole thing work."
Jemal also has to upgrade the mechanicals, electric system, sanitary system, engineering and elevators before he can start converting former hotel rooms into apartments. The conversion of the hotel rooms is expected to take 12 to 15 months, at a cost of $150 million.
"It is a Buffalo jewel that should be preserved," Jemal said. "It is indeed an honor to be refurbishing it and putting it back to its original grandeur as best as we can."
He'd also like to see a gaming or casino component in the Statler. "I would love to see the city get tax revenues on gaming," he said. "But in the meantime, let’s talk about what we have and what we can do, rather than what we don’t have."
Jemal has purchased the mortgage on the Hyatt, which fell into foreclosure a year ago after a fight between owner Snyder Corp. and Hyatt Hotels Corp. He's been in negotiations with the Snyder family, but will ultimately be able to take over the property regardless, once the federal and state foreclosure moratoriums are lifted, starting later this month.
Jemal said he has been in talks with Hyatt, so once he gains control of the hotel, he plans to upgrade it as needed to meet new Hyatt standards and then reopen it, still as a Hyatt Regency.
"I felt it was real important to keep it a Hyatt, because everybody knows it," Jemal said.
Making the Central Terminal grounds more welcoming and attracting year-round events are among the strategies being pursued at the historic former train station.
Jemal is working to convert a large part of the Richardson-Olmsted Complex off Forest Avenue into more apartments, but also plans to bring back the hotel in the landmark building, although he said it won't be called "Hotel Henry." Instead, he's eyeing a short name, like "The R," for Richardson.
"I want to make it more than just a hotel," he said. "You have the opportunity ... to really build something spectacular for the community."
While Jemal has not laid claim to any project at the Central Terminal, he has voiced his interest in doing so, after touring the site with Paul Millstein, his executive vice president at Douglas Development Corp..
"It would be the opportunity of a lifetime," he said. "That one hits you over the head like a 2X4. It’s a gem. I’d love to see that become something special."
He cited the "connectivity it has to downtown" and the East Side, and the opportunity to bring both together, calling it "something I'd love to take on as a challenge." And he said the possibilities are endless.
"It could be a Wegmans, a tech hub, housing, office space, industrial, a farmer’s market. It could be anything," he said. "Needless to say, build it and they will come."