BUFFALO, N.Y. — If you told owner Harry Stinson on December 30, 2021 — the day his hotel caught fire — that 15 months later it would still be shut down, he may have given up. But in an exclusive interview with 2 On Your Side, the Canadian developer said he plans to move forward with reopening plans of the former Buffalo Grand Hotel, even while he waits for a settlement with his insurance company.
"We had never imagined it would take this long," he said in a lengthy interview from the bar area of the hotel. "We can't wait any longer. It's going to be a heavy lift, but we'll get it done."
Stinson said his goal is to get the hotel rooms on floors 4 through 9 reopened by the summer. It will take a little longer for levels 2 and 3, because there was smoke damage from the fire, which has been officially ruled arson.
That first phase of reopening will cost millions of dollars, so he's reaching out to investors. Travelers Insurance, which did not respond to requests for comment, has been "dragging out" the settlement. process, Stinson said. He filed his $50 million claim last summer.
"We didn't come up with that," Stinson explained. "We brought in National Fire Adjusters. They went through the building with the clipboards and a whole team of people with accountants. We brought in third party estimators."
Stinson addressed the persistent rumors that he actually started the fire.
"There are people who think you started the fire here. Did you?" asked 2 On Your Side's Michael Wooten.
"Well folks, all I can say is, give me some credit. I'm not that stupid," Stinson replied, pointing out he had just hours before the fire signed a long-term branding deal with Ramada by Wyndham and had spent about $500,000 just two months prior on new furniture, carpet and other items for the hotel from the shuttered Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.
"I wish we'd resolve who set it," Stinson said. "But it wasn't me. That's for sure."
He took 2 On Your Side on a lengthy tour of the property, including through the hotel rooms and event spaces, and to the grand ballroom where the fire originated.
Stinson said the arsonist first tried to set large rolls of carpet on fire on the ballroom floor, and when that failed, the criminal set fire to other carpets stacked in an area between the ballroom and the kitchen — this time using an accelerant.
"So it became a huge sponge of this," Stinson said. "And they lit that, and boom, away it went."
While the fire was contained to a relatively small area, it did major damage to expensive boilers, chillers and other building systems that were on the floor directly above the fire. There was also widespread smoke and water damage.
Stinson says a big chunk of the insurance claim is from lost business, and the longer this drags out, the higher that total gets.
"We have to bite the bullet and get on with this," he said regarding the reopening of most hotel rooms, noting that more expensive plans — in the third floor grand ballroom, for instance — will have to wait on the insurance settlement.
There are plenty of skeptics who don't think Stinson can pull this off. The property, now known as Ramada By Wyndham Downtown Buffalo, includes almost 500 hotel rooms, covers nearly 600,000 sq. ft. including the event space and parking garage and has a total footprint of almost 7 acres.
"I wanted this big project," Stinson said, while committing to seeing it through.
Time will tell.