|By Mark Sommer, The Buffalo News,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 25, 2013--A 90-room boutique hotel will be going into the iconic Gothic twin towers of the Richardson Olmsted Complex, operated by the same company that runs The Mansion on Delaware Avenue.
The $56.4 million project, at 400 Forest Ave., which includes a high-tech event and conference center, also will occupy two adjacent ward buildings. In total, the hotel will take over about one-third of the sprawling, 480,000-square-foot Medina sandstone and brick complex that opened as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane in 1880 but has been dormant for years.
Design and construction for the first phase of the project is expected to take nearly three years, with a planned opening in late 2015. A second phase could expand the hotel into one or more additional buildings, raising the total number of rooms to 120.
The announcement will be made at a news conference today by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy.
"For 40 years, the Richardson Olmsted Complex sat mostly vacant, and there were so many people who kept the dream that it could have a new future. We're now seeing the realization of that dream," said Monica Pellegrino Faix, executive director of the Richardson Center Corp.
"This marks the site's transformation from a relic of the past to an icon for today."
Dennis Murphy, the founder and sole owner of Innvest Lodging Services, which owns and operates 19 hotels, said he will be developing a unique, high-tech facility and is anxious to get started.
"We're beyond excited. As a company headquartered in Buffalo, we've been working on developing this project for the past 18 months. We received a lot of accolades for The Mansion on Delaware Avenue. We think this facility will also bring attention to Buffalo, but in a different way."
Murphy said he expects the hotel and conference center -- to be equipped with advanced technology that will allow meetings and conferences to be broadcast globally -- to draw business primarily from a 200-mile radius.
Restoration of the grounds began last year on the new South Lawn, which is intended to create a welcoming gateway and public space. It will have a contemporary design with principles developed by Frederick Law Olmsted, such as a curvilinear entry, large open space surrounded by dense tree canopies and sustainable design focused on native plantings.
There are also plans down the road to create an architecture center for visitors to learn about the historic complex, and about landscape architecture and urban design in Buffalo and Western New York.
It's a dramatic turn of affairs for the Richardson Olmsted Complex, which was emptied in 1974 except for the Administration Building, which was vacated in 1994. The site deteriorated under the state's ownership, and it took the threat of a lawsuit by preservationists to loosen funds for stabilization.
The Richardson Center Corp. was created by then-Gov. George E. Pataki in July 2006 to oversee the site's redevelopment, and some $76.5 million was allocated for that purpose.
Most of the funds for the hotel -- $37.6 million -- will come from that pot of money, leaving $12.5 million for future purposes. The remaining funds for the hotel project will come from Historic and New Markets tax credits.
Three architectural firms with extensive backgrounds in public buildings will be involved, led by Flynn Battaglia Architects, and including New York City-based Deborah Berke Partners and Boston-based Goody Clancy. The construction manager will be LP Ciminelli.
Flynn Battaglia's work on historic preservation includes restoration of the Guaranty Building and the exterior of St. Paul's Cathedral, redevelopment of the Roycroft Campus, reconstruction of the main dome at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens and conversion of the Asbury Delaware Church to Babeville.
The first phase is estimated to create 545 construction jobs, and eventually 75 to 90 permanent full-time jobs.
Howard Zemsky, president of the Richardson board, praised Chairman Stanford Lipsey's "dedication and leadership," and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Empire State Development Corp. for being "extraordinary partners" in helping the project become a reality.
"From the earliest stages of planning for this project, with the Urban Land Institute, the hospitality product was envisioned and has withstood the test of time," Zemsky said. "The community has had a real aspiration to activate and rehabilitate this building and site for many decades, and I think for the first time we can clearly imagine it as vibrant, active and successful."
The project will be bringing new life into one of Buffalo's most celebrated works of architecture. The complex was Richardson's first major work, and is an example of what came to be called his Richardsonian Romanesque style.
Buffalo is the only city with major works by the three greatest American architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.
(c)2013 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)
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