I-TEAM: Croce still to use millions in grants to renovate Statler

Posted at 7:50 PM, Dec 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-18 23:36:02-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Renderings provided to the I-Team show what could become of Mark Croce's Statler City, in downtown Buffalo.

He's hired a firm to create a concept, connecting the Statler to the Buffalo Convention Center. It has green space for the public, along with more parking. It's something Croce says would fuel the future of downtown Buffalo.

"Tie it into our existing convention center, both operationally and physically, give it the stability to have two hotels connected to our center, give us the ability to expand to that 130,000 square foot box the Convention Center needs," Croce says.

It's an opportunity, Croce says, he's been waiting and planning for since buying the building in 2011. He purchased the Statler for $200,000, plus all the back taxes and interest accrued while the building sat in bankruptcy.

"At this point it's a sit back and wait," Croce says, as Erie County considers whether it should stay in the convention center business. It's also going through a public comment period to see if the public wants the Convention Center to be moved elsewhere in the City.

The county says nothing, including Croce's proposal, is off the table.

We asked what the future of the Statler is, if this plan is not realized.

"We'll probably remain in the same situation as HSBC, AM&A's...I mean, you see some work being done on those buildings, but they're still vacant many years later. Our property isn't vacant. It's tax producing, it's job producing," Croce said.

From high above, you can see how huge this building is. It's 19 floors. The first three are restored and renovated, though the remaining 16 sit largely undeveloped.

Croce was given more than $5 million in state grants for redevelopment of the Statler. It was tax-payer dollars.

"There's a big fallacy out there that this money has already been invested, but it has not," Croce said. "Only one of three parts of that draw has been invested. We've made a commitment in this project, before we could draw down the second and third phase, to have a total investment with the city's grant money of $12 million. So that would mean $7 million of our own money."

Top to bottom, Croce says, it would cost about $125 million to renovate the entire building. He says that's not money any bank or financier is willing to provide, without a business plan and a solid market. He says that market isn't here quite yet.

"Until we have a comprehensive plan of what the future holds, we don't want to throw good money against bad... just to find out it gets torn out again while this discussion is happening in real-time," Croce said.

Croce acknowledges the "look" of the outside of the first floor. We see the sign from Mayor Byron Brown's election campaign from several years ago. The I-Team has discovered Croce donated $6,600 to Brown's campaign since 2014.

We also see black, boarded up windows, among other issues, in the shadow of City Hall.

"The exterior needs a complete makeover, so that we get much better curb appeal. That's going to be one of the major things you see us focus on in the next year-or-so," Croce said.

He's working to bring this building back to its roots, hosting more than 400 events each year. He insists there will be a time when businesses will fill that lower level, as we see more redevelopment downtown. He's hoping that comes with a Statler/Convention Center deal.

"I appreciate the public's patience...there's a lot of large scale buildings that we'd all like to waive a magic wand and say, 'poof,' Buffalo is back on the map. Let's get these projects done and let's see if we can do it all in the next year. It just doesn't happen that way," Croce said.

The public comment period runs until Wednesday. There's no word on when a final decision will be made by Erie Coutny.

You can comment on Erie County's website, by clicking here.

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