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Signature Development Unveils $35 million Plan to Revive
and Transform Buffalo, New York's Hotel Lafayette

Plans Include 35-suite Boutique Hotel Operated by Hamister Group

By Brian Meyer, The Buffalo News, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Feb. 20, 2010--The Hotel Lafayette would be transformed into a 115-unit apartment complex, boutique hotel and banquet center under a proposal that Buffalo's Planning Board will review Tuesday.

Signature Development Buffalo LLC has sent plans to City Hall that detail its proposed $35 million conversion of the 367-room hotel at Washington and Clinton streets in the core of Buffalo's business district.

The blueprints call for banquet facilities on the first floor and accommodations for five small restaurants. The Hamister Group would operate a 35-suite boutique hotel on the second floor of the building, according to the plans.

Rocco Termini, president of Signature Development, said the plans hinge on some key actions, including ongoing efforts in Albany to revise a state historic tax credit program that took effect last summer.

Termini's appearance in City Hall on Tuesday will be his second visit to the Planning Board in three months. Back in December, he outlined preliminary plans to turn the former AM&A's department store on Main Street into a complex that would include a 117-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel, 28 independent-living senior citizen apartments, 24 market-rate apartments and office space.

However, like the Hotel Lafayette conversion, the AM&A's project would rely on the use of the state historic tax credit. Termini and others have argued that the law is critically flawed and requires revision.

Termini said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, is working on changes to the law. He said one problem is that the law does not allow him to sell the tax credits to banks and insurers, who are among the biggest potential buyers, and he can't sell the federal and state credits separately.

A third project in the same section of downtown is moving forward. Termini announced this week that his new AM&A's Warehouse Lofts residential project is more than half leased and is expected to open by early May.

With three costly and complicated projects all located in the same corridor, couldn't it be argued that Signature Development might be tackling too much at once? "You need to do all these buildings at the same time, because that's what creates critical mass," Termini said.

The Hotel Lafayette originally was planned to provide classy lodging for visitors to the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. But financing snags prevented the building from opening until a couple years after the event ended.

Once viewed as one of the top hotels in the nation, the facility in more recent decades has served as a single-room occupancy building, mostly for residential short-term emergency housing for clients of social services agencies or organizations.

When Termini first announced his intention to rehabilitate the Hotel Lafayette last fall, his plans were sketchy. But he said he was impressed that the current owners had done nothing to "destroy any of the architectural splendor" of the building.

Termini's company has a purchase contract pending on the building that is contingent on obtaining site plan approval and lining up financing.

In November, the Planning Board briefly discussed Termini's desire to purchase and rehabilitate the structure.

"I've spent 30 years longing for someone to come along and [renovate] the Lafayette Hotel," said board member Cynthia A. Schwartz.


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