Collins on board with Statler funding

September 7, 2011 Updated Sep 7, 2011 at 7:27 AM EDT

By WKBW News

September 7, 2011 Updated Sep 7, 2011 at 7:27 AM EDT

The $5.3 million in state dollars being sought for the Statler City restoration project makes good sense, according to Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

Collins, Tuesday morning, defended the effort by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to use $5.3 million to help Mark Croce finance much-needed repairs to the 18-story former Statler Towers - now Statler City - project. Brown made that pledge to help Croce secure those funds one week ago.

The money would come from a previously set aside $15 million pool the Dormitory of the State of New York allocated to Buffalo for various projects. Critics say that money should be spent on public projects and not private sector fueled economic development efforts.

Brown, citing the long-term impact of seeing the Statler shifted from a mothballed eyesore over Niagara Square to a vibrant building, is one of the driving forces behind his decision. Croce expects to employ more than 200 people in the Statler and is in the early phases of bringing the building back to life.

"Because of the unique nature of the building, I do support the mayor," Collins said.

Brown made Croce submit a detailed business plan for the Statler before agreeing to champion the request with the Dormitory Authority.

Still, there are critics of the project including the owner of one of downtown's largest real estate portfolios, developer Carl Paladino.

Paladino is asking groups like Buffalo Place Inc. to consider passing resolutions asking that Brown refrain from using the Dormitory Authority funds for the Statler project. Both Paladino and Croce sit on the Buffalo Place board of directors.

"This effort is just more of the continuing saga that inhibits downtown Buffalo development," Paladino said. "Private, non-parasitic developers can not compete with properties that benefit from selective subsidies from our local or state governments. By giving Croce money to improve the Statler, he will have a competitive edge in setting rental rates and will be stealing tenants from other taxpaying properties in downtown Buffalo."

Croce plans on bringing a series of restaurants, nightclubs and special event venues to the Statler's first three floors as well as a portion its 18th floor penthouse.

Development plans for the remainder of the building remain open ended, depending on market conditions.

The Statler, which was in involuntary Chapter 11 protection and facing an uncertain future, was bought by Croce earlier this year for $200,000 plus his agreement to pay another $500,000 in back taxes.

The building, which dates back to 1923, is considered a national historic landmark and one of Buffalo's architectural gems.

"I can understand why people may question putting public dollars into a privately-owned building, but this is a very unique situation," Collins said.

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