TLC for a Grande Dame – The Hotel Lafayette

“In less than four months, developer Rocco R. Termini expects a restored and renovated Hotel Lafayette to be fully operating.

Into its seventh month, the $42 million project at the historic downtown structure — turning the building into, among other things, a “one-stop shop” for weddings — is about 60 percent complete.

“It’s moving along,” Termini said. “It’s never moving along fast enough, but we’re moving in the right direction.” Termini is targeting May 1 as the day everything — from the banquet facility and apartments to the boutique hotel, restaurant and retail shops — will open.

Andrews Jewelers is the latest to sign on as a tenant.

Amid the grinding hum of saws and drills, and workers whisking wheelbarrows full of concrete into elevator cars, Termini guided some city lawmakers on a tour of the structure. Every day, about 220 construction workers are on the job at the building, located at 391 Washington St. on Lafayette Square.

Built in 1904, additions were made to the building in 1920, and much of the building was remodeled from a French Renaissance style into an art deco style in 1940, Termini said. Much of the work has involved peeling back layers to get down to what was there originally. And it’s meticulous work. In one section of the building, it took two months to strip the paint down.

In the Crystal Ballroom, 1-inch-square pieces of tile flooring, imported from Turkey, are being pieced together one by one. It took three months to restore the original chandeliers in that room.

A finish made to look like marble — called scagliola — is being applied at one end of a first-floor hallway once known as Peacock Alley. The water damage to all of the ceilings in the building didn’t help, either. “Restoration takes a long time,” he said. “It’s not something that gets done quickly.”

Parts of the building are being restored to what they were in 1904, while others will remain in their art deco style, as requested by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Termini said.

The project has received state and federal historic tax credits, sales and mortgage tax relief from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and an $850,000 loan from the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency. Without the tax credits, the level of detail being adhered to in the project would not have been possible, Termini said.

In the end, there will be 25,000 square feet of banquet space, 34 hotel rooms on the second floor and 115 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the upper floors of the seven-story structure. The landmark building still bears all the marks of a construction site.

Materials from drywall to piping to blue-lidded buckets of joint compound sit stacked on the first floor, as a chain-link fence sets a perimeter along much of the street. Yellow electrical cords are strung from the ceiling, sometimes connected to light bulbs giving off yellowish light.

The soon-to-reopen Lafayette Tap Room — to be run by Earl Ketry, who runs the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery — is where the plaster casts are made. The other commercial tenants slated to come aboard include Michael A’s Steakhouse, Butterwoods Bakery, Woyshner’s Floral Shop and Get Dressed men’s store.

Common Council President Richard A. Fontana, one of four lawmakers who toured the site, called the work inside “impressive.” Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, whose Ellicott District includes the Hotel Lafayette, snapped photographs.

An L-shaped public alley, which sits between two parking lots between the Hotel Lafayette and Jake Schneider’s adjacent Warehouse Lofts, at 210 Ellicott St., has been in dispute.

Termini, who finalized the purchase of the former 367-room hotel last May, says he needs access to the alley in order to build multilevel patios that would be attached to the banquet space. The patios will be “just like you see at the Pearl Street Brewery,” he said.

Schneider and Termini, who were once in negotiations to resolve the matter, have appeared before the city Planning Board.

City lawmakers are expected to consider a proposal to sell Termini the city-owned alley, even though Termini said that all he originally asked for was an easement. Pridgen suggested that the alley be split, with Schneider being offered a section closest to his property.

Termini said the matter can’t go before the Council until the city’s Appraisal Review Board checks out the results of his property’s appraisal. “We need to get this done,” Termini told lawmakers. Fontana said he will reach out to Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration on the issue.” M. Scott Allen of GAR Associates, Inc. completed an appraisal on this property in 2011.

The Buffalo News
January 2012

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