Hotel Sale Goes Through

Investors must begin renovating part of the Hotel Syracuse to keep garage

Friday, September 16, 2005

By Frederic Pierce, Staff writer

There aren't too many property owners in Syracuse who can walk downstairs from their bedrooms and swim in an indoor pool, take a seat in a movie theater or eat in a full-service restaurant: All beneath the same, gargoyle-guarded roof.

But that's exactly the kind of permanent living space envisioned by an Israeli company that officially purchased downtown's Hotel Syracuse complex late last week.

Gmul Investment Company LTD closed on a deal to buy the historic hotel complex from Illinois-based First Bank of Oak Park last Thursday or Friday, said Robert Germain, a Syracuse lawyer involved in part of the sale. The building's price was not available.

The sale starts the clock ticking for Gmul, which must begin renovating the first two floors of the 80-year-old hotel building and its attached garage within 120 days of the closing, or turn title to the garage back to the city.

"I really get the impression they want to get started as soon as possible," said David Michel, the city's economic development director. "They seem to be really focusing on the tower in particular."

Gmul plans to renovate the hotel's 22-year-old tower into a stack of about 65 modern condominium units as part of a $19 million first phase of renovations. That phase would also include repairs to the now-closed garage and renovation of the historic lobby, ballrooms and commercial space on the lower floors of the historic original building.

Other details of the hotel complex's future are still evolving, and the company is not yet ready to comment publicly on them, Arie Kotler, a Gmul executive, said Thursday.

Sources familiar with the project, however, outlined some of the plans being discussed on condition they not be identified.

One possibility is the creation of a movie theater in the space formerly occupied by the Viva Debris comedy club.

"That would be great," said David Mankiewicz, deputy director of the Downtown Committee of Syracuse. "The good thing about the Hotel Syracuse is that it's so large they can create the environment of a neighborhood in that space."

Much of the space in the original building - up to 100 units - eventually are to be converted to condominiums, sources said. That will leave 150 to 200 traditional hotel rooms in the historic building.

Most of the 65 or so condos filling the tower will sell for $200,000 to $250,000, sources said. A handful of luxury condominiums, however, could go on the market for as much as $500,000.

Condominiums have traditionally not sold well in Syracuse, but experts Thursday said they believe the downtown market has improved to the point where the time to sell condos is probably ripe.

"There does seem to be a surge of interest," said Lynnore Fetyko, of the Greater Syracuse Association of Realtors. "I think the feeling is downtown is being revitalized and this is a positive development."

One real estate agent told Michel she had a list of more than 30 people who were interested in buying condominiums downtown, he said. Occupancy in downtown rental units, meanwhile, is at 99 percent, Mankiewicz said.

2005 The Post-Standard.