Seneca one Tower developer to buy Statler after Croce’s death

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Washington developer Douglas Jemal, who has already made his mark on Buffalo with his acquisition and redevelopment of Seneca One tower, has agreed to purchase another troubled landmark – Statler City.

Details were limited Wednesday night, but a source familiar with the deal confirmed that Jemal, owner of Douglas Development Corp., will acquire the historic hotel and banquet center on Niagara Square from Statler City LLC, the company that had been run by the late developer Mark Croce.

Jemal declined to comment when reached by phone. However, a formal announcement is expected on Thursday, involving the developer, Croce’s family and city officials.

The future of the Statler has been uncertain since Croce’s death in January in a helicopter crash. Croce, the veteran restaurateur known for his Buffalo Chophouse and other restaurants on Franklin Street, had been viewed as the driving force behind the attempt to revive the 18-story Statler.

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.

The building’s brick facade had started to crumble when Croce snapped it up out of foreclosure in 2011 for $200,000 – plus $500,000 in back taxes – to save it from being mothballed.

Croce estimated then that a full redevelopment of the building would cost well over $100 million, but he aimed to start small and build up over time. He quickly kicked off an effort to overhaul the lower levels and bring them back to life as a catering, banquet and events center, capitalizing on its history and the splendor that still remained inside. The renamed Statler City opened for business in Dec. 31, 2011, with a New Year’s Eve party designed to showcase the building’s potential.

Croce’s company spent $8 million on the project over the following eight years, while he insisted on public help to shore up the exterior. That work was expected to total about $12.5 million, so the city and state agreed to give the building $5.3 million in grants in three installments, with the rest coming from Statler City’s funds.

The project slowed as Croce focused on developing the boutique Curtiss Hotel, also on Franklin Street, and then on a plan to create a second Emerson School of Hospitality.

Croce a year ago unveiled plans to spend another $3 million on exterior repairs and renovations to the Statler, including restoring stonework, reconstructing three entrance canopies, and repairing, replacing or reinstalling windows. At that time, he had drawn down only $2 million from the government funding, but he planned to seek another $2 million for roof repairs, while also investing in security, fire and sprinkler systems.

Croce had said he would need a partner to help complete the rest of the building. While he had held discussions with various parties over the years, reportedly including Jemal, he never got to see that to fruition.

Croce’s death left his companies in the hands of his family and his attorney, Robert Knoer.

For Jemal, the purchase of the Statler would mark his seventh property purchase in the Buffalo area since he emerged four years ago to buy Seneca One, the tallest privately owned building in upstate New York.

WKBW first reported the Statler deal Wednesday night. The News independently confirmed the report.

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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