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Restaurateur Mark Croce in Design Stage for 65 room
 Luxury Hotel in Downtown, Buffalo, New York

By Jonathan D. Epstein, The Buffalo News, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 1, 2009 - Buffalo businessman and restaurateur Mark Croce has acquired the former Continental nightclub and a parking lot on Franklin Street downtown, as he unveiled plans for a 65- room upscale hotel and restaurant that will include the historic Curtiss building next door.

Croce, through his Baja Beach Club entity, paid $375,000 on Monday to acquire the Continental building at 212 Franklin Street and a surface lot at 216 Franklin from FAC Downtown LLC. The longtime popular bar closed about four years ago, and has been dark since.

He already owns the venerable Curtiss building at 204 and 210 Franklin, and intends to incorporate all four properties into a single project that will preserve the historic terra cotta facade while opening a mod-ern luxury hotel inside.

"What we're doing is developing plans for a model ultra-chic, high-end hotel inside a historic building," said the owner of the Buffalo Chop House restaurant, comparing the new project to the high-end, five-star Hazelton Hotel in Toronto. "It's going to be something that's very unique to Buffalo."

The 60,000-square foot project will include a full-service "urban boutique" hotel with about 65 rooms and a three-meal restaurant. Croce said it will also have some retail space and commercial "amenities" tied to the hotel, but will not have commercial space available for general leasing. He declined to elaborate. Croce already controls about 300 parking spaces nearby on Delaware Avenue, "more than enough" to support the hotel project, so the current surface lot will not be used for parking. The Continental property will be used to support the hotel, possibly for drop-off and the entranceway, he said.

Croce is working with the Waterbourne Group, including Tony D'Auria, Jim Carminati and Peter Savarino, as construction managers and advisers. He said the project is still in the design stage with architects and final plans are not ready to be submitted to the city, but workers are now getting ready to start interior demolition.

Specifically, Croce will strip the building down to its steel skeleton while retaining the historic features. Plans call for the project to be completed by the second quarter of 2010. The total cost will be about $15 million, including construction, land and buildings.

This is Croce's first stab at a hotel, but he said it's a "natural progression" from his past efforts that started with nightclubs before moving to fine dining. Besides the Buffalo Chop House, he now owns D'Arcy McGee's Irish Pub, Skybar, Laughlin's and Buckin' Buffalo.

He would not elaborate on plans for the new restaurant, except that it will be of the same "caliber" as Buffalo Chop House. However, he said it will not be a steakhouse, and will be "complementary instead of competitive."

The venture also marks a big change for the six-story Curtiss building, which was originally built in 1912 for prominent Buffalo attorney and real estate executive Harlow C. Curtiss. Designed by Paul F. Mann, it was considered a cutting-edge Chicago-style skyscraper at the time, and is one of the few surviving buildings locally to feature terra cotta, along with the Guaranty Building.

More recently, it has seen life as a commercial office building, but Croce sees a different potential because of its location at the corner of Franklin and West Huron, not far from the Buffalo Convention Center. He said there's still a dearth of available hotel rooms downtown when a big meeting comes to town, citing the Hyatt and Hampton as the only hotels near the convention center. At a recent meeting, 60 percent of the teachers attending had to stay in the suburbs.

Peter Cutler, spokesman for Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, said the city is reviewing the plan. "It looks like a good project. Mark has a great track record in the city and has done some great projects."

jepstein@buffnews.com

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To see more of The Buffalo News, N.Y., or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.buffalonews.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

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