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Developer Mark Croce's Financing Package for a Boutique Hotel in
 Downtown Buffalo Makes the List of 100 Stimulus Projects that
 Give Taxpayers the Blues

By Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 04, 2010--WASHINGTON -- Developer Mark Croce's plan for a boutique hotel in downtown Buffalo prompted a war of words, of sorts, Tuesday between the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and the vice president of the United States.

Croce plans to renovate the Curtiss Building, at the corner of Franklin and Huron streets, and spend $18 million to refurbish the 98-year-old property into an upscale hotel and restaurant.

His financing package includes $6 million in tax-exempt bonds backed by federal stimulus funds -- which prompted Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to single out Croce's project as one of "100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues" in a report they issued Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, Buffalo's hotels have a history of dependence on subsidies and an even longer history of struggling financially," the senators complained in their report. "There are plenty of folks who think downtown Buffalo has enough hotels."

Quoting heavily from Buffalo News articles that questioned public subsidies for hotels, the two senators added: "The former president of the local conventions bureau stated in 2008 that 'based on the current market demand, [Buffalo has] a sufficient number of rooms in the downtown core.' "

That criticism prompted Vice President Biden to contradict the senators in "Top Ten McCain/Coburn Report Inaccuracies," his rebuttal to their report.

"The people of Buffalo and the market seem to have more confidence in this project than do Senators McCain and Coburn," the vice president's rebuttal said.

"Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, recently said, 'We do need more hotel rooms in downtown ... More hotel rooms,' he continued, 'open the door for more convention business' -- business that brings with it opportunities for economic growth and job creation."

Croce did not return requests to comment on the McCain/Coburn report -- which also criticized the Federal Communications Commission's $350,000 expenditure to hire Installs Inc. of Buffalo to help the move from analog to digital television.

"Most DTV converter boxes are no more difficult to hook up than connecting the 'antenna-in' cable, the 'TV-out' cable, and the power cord into an outlet, raising questions about the need for 'experts,' " the senators said in their report.

Installs Inc. hired 24 employees for its call center at its Buffalo headquarters after winning stimulus contracts to manage the installation of digital converter boxes in 35 states, the company said last year. Eventually, 30,000 people, including 3,900 in New York State, got help with their cable boxes through the program.

The debate between the Republican senators and the Democratic vice president focused on the larger issue of whether many stimulus projects -- designed to boost the economy -- amounted to not much more than waste.

"Some projects accomplish such questionable goals as putting in new windows at a vacant government building, replacing a new sidewalk with an even newer one, or money for a park that is only accessible by boat or plane," the senators noted. "Other projects that appear in the report may have merit, but are being mismanaged or were poorly planned."

Biden disagreed, saying in his rebuttal: "Democrats are working every day to find more ways to create more jobs and squeeze as many jobs as possible out of existing programs like the Recovery Act -- while Republicans spend their time churning out political hit documents."


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