BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Bringing new life to a downtown Buffalo landmark-- it's become commonplace for Douglas Jemal, and the developer with deep pockets can't hide his enthusiasm for his latest project of reimagining the historic Statler Hotel.
"This is what I love to do. I love doing it in Buffalo", Jemal said during a recent tour of the construction site with WKBW Anchor Jeff Russo.
Jemal purchased the iconic Statler building from the estate of Mark Croce in May of 2020. His updated vision for the 18-story gem now includes hundreds of apartments along with banquet, retail, and conference space. Jemal also still plans to bring casino gaming to the heart of downtown Buffalo.
Work is already well underway on turning his vision into reality. Jemal estimates the total cost of the project will eclipse $150 million.
"It always costs more, and will always take longer", Jemal added, with a smile.
Uncovering Statler's Assets
The bulk of the work currently being done is in an area of the Statler that many people haven't seen before. For more than a month, crews have been clearing out the entire underbelly of the building removing years of debris, old pipes, and electrical.
"As you can see we are digging, digging, digging" said Jemal.
The goal is to open up 100,000 square feet of contiguous space. "What you didn't see before in the Statler is its assets," said Jemal. "You didn't see this before. You had no idea this existed, but this is the most important part of the Statler".
Some historical items have been uncovered along the way, including an original vault in the basement, but Jemal says he hopes the true treasure is what the newly cleared area will become.
"This has the potential to be the greatest casino ever, and that is what we are looking to do", said Jemal. "Our long-term plan is to make a deal with the Seneca Nation and put gaming in here. If that doesn't work we'd like to make it an extension of the convention center if they need additional space", added Jemal.
Jemal says that conversations with the Seneca Nation and New York State on gaming will happen in the future, but believes a redeveloped Statler right next to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center opens up endless potential.
"Let's seek this opportunity to get something great done for Buffalo and that's what we are doing now. I'm very proud of it," said Jemal.
Putting the building "back together"
The Statler first opened its doors in 1923, at a time when Buffalo's population was more than a half-million people and growing. For Jemal, reimagining the 18-story building almost one hundred years later begins with restoring an aging exterior.
"We are putting it back to the way that it was. It's a magnificent building, with magnificent architecture", said Jemal.
Noticeable work has already taken place and continues along the ground floor exterior. Windows, awnings, and even the revolving doors in the grand entryways are all getting the royal rehab treatment with an eye on the original design.
"We are maintaining everything. We are having everything that is broken redone again. We are putting it back," said Jemal. "More than anything it is going to have a front face that was restored to mostly the way it was before. So it won't look like it's an old abandoned decayed building."
Creating a living downtown
Jemal also plans to reintroduce retail spaces and storefronts on the lower floors of the Statler along Delaware Avenue and on Niagara Square.
"Certainly there will be retail there," said Jemal. "The position this has on Niagara Square, the visibility, is really important to put back properly."
If you head up the elevators hundreds of residential units will replace old office space and some of the original hotel rooms.
"I'm looking to ultimately do close to 600 apartments here which will be close to 1200 residents. The ballrooms are phenomenal the way they are. We are going to keep them the way they are."
Connecting Statler to Convention Center?
One thing Jemal would potentially like to see in the future is physically connecting the Statler building to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center right across Franklin Street. Jemal says conversations on the idea are ongoing.
"I think at the end of the day what it brings is it gives the convention center some additional space if they needed it, or they can have that additional space when they do need it. They don't have to be obligated to run it or take it unless they had a large enough convention that they want to solicit for."
Jemal, who also owns Seneca One, the Boulevard Mall, and is working on acquiring the downtown Hyatt, says for now his work at the Statler building will be focused on what is already planned. He expects the Statler project to take around two years to complete.