Mark Croce's Full Plate
Mark Croceâ€™s $2.15 million purchase of Bashar Issaâ€™s City Tower site seemed out of the ordinary for a businessman better known for his string of Franklin Street restaurants and bars. Croce however, through partnerships or one of his corporations, has become one of downtownâ€™s largest property owners. He has been buying parking lots and buildings for several years in the north end of downtown.
Croce says the parking lot purchased from Bashar Issa last week will be developed. That according to an interview in Mondayâ€™s Buffalo News:
â€śI definitely wonâ€™t be building a 40-story tower,â€ť Croce said. â€śBut I will build something that makes sense in the context of the location, something that makes the highest use of the property.â€ť
While he declined to get more specific about what heâ€™ll do with the site, he said it wonâ€™t remain a parking lot â€śmuch longer.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ve hired an architect and have a bunch of preliminary renderings. Iâ€™m at an important juncture moving into development, so Iâ€™m going to do it right. Iâ€™m not going to waste a prime development site,â€ť Croce said.
While heâ€™s previously said heâ€™d like to develop a boutique hotel downtown, he said thatâ€™s not in his plans for the site. And he wonâ€™t be putting up a standalone parking deck.
â€śIt will be a building that fills in a lot of gaps and complements the major buildings around it, like City Hall and the new federal courthouse. So it might integrate parking, Class A office space and some entertainment,â€ť Croce said.
Arguably, of the property owned by Croce, the City Tower lot would not rank high on the list of planners' development priorities. He has been buying strategically located parking lots for years.
Croce along with James Jerge purchased the parking lot on the site of the Media Study Building at 207 Delaware Avenue (demolished in 1998) and the historic Hertz Parking Garage at 73-77 Huron Street in October 2003 for $1.8 million.
A partnership of Croce and Uniland Development purchased a surface parking lot at 470 Pearl Street in February 2005 from M&T Bank. The bank asked prospective buyers to submit a re-use plan for the 140-space lot with their offers. The Croce/Uniland team beat out two other development proposals with their plan for a mixed-use commercial and entertainment project. After paying $1.2 million for the lot, the property remains surface parking.
In September 2006, Croceâ€™s Skydeck Corporation purchased four additional parking lots. 297 Washington Street (behind the Ellicott Square Building), 79 W. Mohawk Street (north of the Statler) and 690 Main Street (south of Studio Arena) were purchased from AllRight Parking for a combined $2.65 million.
The restaurateur has been quiet on the development front as of late. His newest venues, Warehaus, since revamped as Bucking Buffalo Saloon, and Laughlinâ€™s, opened in 2004.
Back in January 2007, Croce told Buffalo Rising he views his parking lots as potential development sites. â€śI look for lots situated around my enterprises, and all of the lots are managed by Standard Parking,â€ť he said. â€śEveryone thinks I own Standard, but I don't. I run my operations first, and my lots second. I look at my lots as current and future investment opportunities. As the city grows I will look at those lots as prime development sites. Restaurants are the frontrunner to retail. Density will be the signal that those lots are ready for buildings. Critical mass will bring building infill."
Hertz Garage and 204 Franklin Street office building.
His list of talked about, but not started downtown projects is lengthy. Besides the mixed-use project behind Sheaâ€™s with Uniland, since 2000 he has talked about converting the six-story Saturn Rings Building at 505 Pearl Street into a mix of office and residential space. In 2002, he started talking about converting the office building at 204 Franklin Street into a boutique hotel or mixed-use entertainment venue. Both properties remain vacant.
Other incomplete projects include conversion of the Hertz Garage into residential units and a plan to bring back the Chez Ami supper club. There have been persistent rumors that he is looking build a new hotel north of his Coliseum complex on Franklin Street.
Apparently the buying binge is not over. Besides the parking lot purchase from Issa last week, he is rumored to have recently bid on a building in the center of his holdings along Pearl Street behind Sheaâ€™s.
Now about getting some of these lots filled inâ€¦
Saturn Rings Building, 505 Pearl Street.