Editorial: Restore the Hotel

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The convention business in Onondaga County is suffering, officials say, because the Oncenter complex has no hotel adjacent to its award- winning facilities. Without 350 first-rate hotel rooms right next door, they say, the county may never realize its potential as a convention destination.

The Hotel Syracuse has suffered as well in recent decades, through a string of bankruptcies and half-baked renovations. Without a major investment, the historic building could "go dark" for good this year. One end of the downtown business district, just a block from the gleaming Oncenter, would be anchored by a boarded-up relic.

The solution to both conditions is for Onondaga County to embrace a $90 million proposal by Historic Restorations Inc. That respected and experienced company would transform the Hotel Syracuse into a four- star hotel just 310 paces from the Oncenter.

Not so fast, convention experts say. The modern convention facility must have a "seamless" connection from hotel to meeting facilities. A renovation project may cost more and take longer than expected. Room rates could be too high to attract convention planners.

Members of a committee appointed to examine proposals for a new hotel adjacent to the Oncenter say they are keeping their minds open to the HRI proposal that is backed by Mayor Matt Driscoll. If they base their decision, due at the end of the month, solely on the desires of their clients - the people who plan conventions - a new "glass box" hotel should soon be going up in a parking lot.

But they should factor in the positive effects of a restored hotel on the city of Syracuse and weigh them against the negative effects of losing the landmark structure.

Consider that an enclosed walkway could create an attractive link for the one-block walk. Imagine convention-goers strolling from their grand hotel to Armory Square or Hanover Square or a revitalized South Salina Street.

Then imagine the opposite scenario - those same people staying in a new hotel right next door to the Oncenter. Would they make the walk past the boarded-up Hotel Syracuse and then beyond in search of night life? Or would they be content to settle in at a hotel bar?

It's no surprise that County Executive Nicholas Pirro is shy about being burned a third time by false hopes for a revived Hotel Syracuse. But it's significant that he once considered this property worthy of serving as the convention center hotel.

Committee members are wise to keep open minds. They would be commended also for considering the future of downtown Syracuse and taking the bold step of making the HRI proposal happen.

2004 The Post-Standard.