Jemal sees Statler’s future tied to convention center

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Developer Douglas Jemal, who is reviving the Seneca One Tower, views the Statler Towers as a gem in downtown Buffalo. And now he’s taking over the efforts to revive the landmark office tower.

Jemal said Thursday he sees the Statler as an integral part of the convention center across the street from the former hotel and expressed skepticism about efforts to build a new convention center downtown that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I think the Statler could serve as a masterpiece for this convention center,” he said. “I think it’s an integral part of the convention center.”

Jemal said part of the Statler building could be converted back into hotel rooms to support events at the convention center. Some space could be used for offices.

“It’s a big project,” Jemal said. “It’s a very special project and it’s an important project.”

Jemal is purchasing the former hotel from Statler City LLC, the company that had been run by the late developer Mark Croce.

“I’m so grateful that Doug is taking Mark’s vision for the Statler and taking it to another level,” said Jessica Croce, Mark Croce’s widow.

“Developing the Statler will take a lot of time and money that I don’t have,” Jessica Croce said. “My friend Doug does.”

The Statler’s future has been up in the air since Croce died in January in a helicopter crash.

Croce had bought the building in 2011, when the Statler Towers were in foreclosure and in danger of being demolished. The building’s brick facade had started to crumble when Croce bought it out of foreclosure in 2011 for $200,000 – plus $500,000 in back taxes – to save it from being mothballed.

While he struggled to fund such a costly restoration, Croce managed to spruce up the lower floors to create an event space that has kept the historic hotel building intact. Croce said last spring that he planned to spend $3 million on exterior repairs and renovations at the Niagara Square landmark.

“Both of us are Humpty Dumpty guys,” Jemal said. “We went where people don’t go. When people say it’s bad, it’s good.”

The Statler “would not be standing today if it were not for the Herculean efforts of Mark Croce,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who noted that the developer was an early booster of downtown Buffalo.

The 1,100-room Statler hotel, built in 1923 for $8 million, had declined over many decades from its days as the flagship of Ellsworth Statler’s hotel chain. By the 1980s, it had been converted into office space.

Jemal’s company, Douglas Development Corp., purchased the 38-story Seneca One tower for $12.6 million. He launched a $120 million redevelopment project that landed M&T Bank Corp. as the anchor tenant. Jemal has since added the former Buffalo Police Headquarters, an industrial building in North Buffalo, two houses on Nottingham Terrace and the Boulevard Mall in Amherst.

Posted by The Buffalo News

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