|By Sharon Linstedt, The Buffalo News,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 15, 2007 - The storied hotel rooms in Buffalo's Statler Towers could be welcoming guests again by next spring as its new owner fine-tunes plans for the building's rebirth.
British developer Bashar Issa has decided to keep four floors of original, mothballed hotel rooms intact and outfit them in an art deco theme. Earlier plans called for the existing rooms to be gutted to make way for contemporary rooms and a reconfigured layout.
"By restoring what's there, we'll end up with a completely unique product," said Issa, adding that the rooms are perfect candidates for a "back to the future" makeover.
"We'll put in new systems and bring in an interior stylist to get the right look," he said. "They'll feel historic and nostalgic, yet meet modern standards for comfort and luxury."
The original hotel rooms, on floors nine through 12 of the 74-year-old building, have sat untouched since the former Statler Hilton was converted to an office tower in the 1970s. Work already is under way to refurbish the 210 idle rooms, and Issa's BSC Group is holding talks with a potential hotel operator with the goal of opening the hotel in the next 12 months.
Issa is in Buffalo for several weeks to advance plans for the $130 million Statler overhaul, as well as blueprints for a new $361 million, 40-story commercial tower, which, if built as planned, would be the city's tallest building.
Since purchasing the Statler last August for $3.5 million, Issa and his Manchester-based BSC Group have invested $1.8 million to get the building's outdated main elevators into working order. The first three elevators are expected to be back on line in the next several days, with the remaining three undergoing similar work this summer.
Meanwhile, Issa will begin installation of new marble floors in the lobby and lower level, which will feature sections of translucent stone that will be illuminated from beneath. The new floors will be accented with cut marble medallions bearing an "S" monogram.
Another key project will be the installation of about 400 wood-frame replacement windows on the first three floors of the building. The windows are replicas of the building's original window designs.
Exterior upgrades also are coming soon. The building's weathered awning over its Delaware Avenue entrance will be coming down, the brick facade will be repaired, and new lighting will be installed.
In addition to altering plans for the boutique hotel, Issa also is rethinking the mix of residential and office floors.
While original plans called for as many as nine of the building's 18 floors to become condominiums, with just three floors of offices, he is now considering boosting the office component.
"We've had considerable inquiries about office space, so we're likely to have six or more floors of offices," the developer said.
The multiphase Statler project is expected to be completed in 2010.
Issa also is laying the groundwork for the 40-story tower project through development of marketing materials targeting companies in such places as Toronto, New York and Chicago to take advantage of Buffalo's comparatively low cost of doing business. He also confirmed having preliminary discussions with a local company interested in taking as much as 250,000 square feet in the 1.2 million-square-foot skyscraper.
The tentative timetable for the tower would see construction start in 2009, with completion in 2011.
Issa, who was drawn to the Statler Towers because of its historic nature, also confirmed he has made several trips to the Central Terminal complex and might be interested in redeveloping the long-neglected Buffalo landmark.
"It's too early to say if anything will come of it, but it has a lot of potential," he said.
Issa has had preliminary conversations with the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., the nonprofit group that owns the historic rail station, as well as with Common Council President David Franczyk.
"I think we could start with a mixed-use project in the baggage building and go from there. I'd like to see Amtrak move its local operations back there," Issa said.
The developer said he's serious enough about the terminal to have his architects sketch out preliminary reuse plans.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Buffalo News, N.Y.
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