SARANAC LAKE - Fred Roedel III and his family believe they are the right people to bring the Hotel Saranac back to life.
Roedel has strong ties to Saranac Lake and he runs, along with family members, a successful company that focuses on hotel building, renovation and management.
"My father and I felt strongly that we certainly knew how to do it, and if we didn't try to put it together, we'd really feel bad about it for the rest of our lives," Roedel told the Enterprise in a Tuesday evening phone interview. "There's an opportunity here, we're a company that we believe can take advantage of this opportunity, and it's before us now and we're going to work very hard to get it done."
Fred Roedel III, a fourth-generation summer resident of Saranac Lake and a principal in the Roedel Companies, is seen over the weekend at Can-Am Rugby in Saranac Lake. Roedel Companies plans to restore the Hotel Saranac in downtown Saranac Lake.
(Photo — Therese Lang)
Roedel Companies announced plans Monday to buy and renovate the Hotel Saranac, and to apply for money from the state to do so.
Saranac Lake ties
When the Enterprise spoke to him Tuesday, Roedel had returned to New Hampshire after spending the weekend playing rugby for the Mountaineers in Saranac Lake, as he has done every year since the late 1980s.
He and his family have strong ties to the area, with a seasonal property on Lower Saranac Lake. Both of his grandfathers cured of tuberculosis here, and his great-grandfather worked for the Paul Smith's Electric Company. His mother graduated from Saranac Lake High School as her father was curing, one of his grandmothers grew up in town, and he had great-aunts who were teachers in the Saranac Lake school district.
"Our family has had a presence in Saranac Lake for over a century," Roedel said. "The town has always been very, very important to our family, and very special to our family."
For Roedel personally, he started spending a lot of time in Saranac Lake in 1988 or '89, when he came here for the summer to tend bar while in graduate school. He started as a bartender at a now-closed Lake Placid restaurant called Villa Vespa, and he bartended at other area establishments as well.
He said he's been fortunate enough to visit every summer since then, including when he and his wife were married in Saranac Lake.
"It's just a special place for us, and that's really the impetus for the project," Roedel said. "The project is not as much about the hotel, but really about how important the hotel is to the community."
His family is close enough to the community that it has felt the impact of the iconic hotel falling into disrepair and losing customers and special event clients, and they felt like they were in a position to do something about it.
"We believe very strongly we've got a plan that will work, and we're looking forward to getting it done," Roedel said.
Roedel is not yet under contract to buy the hotel, but he does "have an agreement with (current owner) Mr. (Sewa) Arora that both parties have worked very hard to get to." Roedel Companies is currently in the due diligence phase, working on things to consummate the transaction.
If it is finalized, Roedel said the plan is to close the hotel during renovations.
Roedel said he plans to upgrade the 86 guest rooms to modern standards that meet all customers' expectations. But in the common areas of the hotel like the ballroom and the lobby, as well as the exterior, Roedel plans to focus on historical renovation.
"The guest rooms would be reviewed for their historical element, but I think there's a little leeway there so that we can make sure that the final room product is a first-class room," Roedel said.
There are a number of things that have to happen to bring the hotel up to current standards, like making it accessible to people with disabilities and meeting safety codes, which Roedel said is typical in a renovation project.
So far he only has what he calls "very, very rough projections" about the cost of the project, so he didn't want to share those with the Enterprise yet, saying it's not worthwhile to talk about.
He said they're also exploring various funding options. In addition to applying for Empire State Development funding through the state's consolidated funding application program, his company is also meeting with the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency, which can issue low- or no-interest bonds for business startup or rejuvenation projects like this, and looking at other funding avenues.
Roedel also plans to look at getting the property listed on historic registers, which may open it up to other funding avenues. It may already be listed, but he said he's not sure. He knows Arora didn't pursue the designation, and he doesn't know about the hotel's previous owner, Paul Smith's College, which ran the hotel and restaurant as an educational work experience program.
Roedel said he wants to do a lot of work on the front end of this project, so it doesn't get delayed once work starts.
"We spent a great deal of time going through what has to happen," Roedel said.
He said the project doesn't have an exact timeline yet. He doesn't anticipate it taking more than a year, but 10 to 12 months could be reasonable, he said.
Ideally, the hotel would be ready to open at the beginning of next summer, he said.
"When you take on a project of this magnitude, you want to move as quickly as possible," Roedel said.
He said he's been speaking with local politicians about the project including village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, town Supervisor Bob Bevilaqua and Tim Burpoe, Saranac Lake's representative on the Franklin County Board of Legislators.
"They've all been very supportive, so I think we'll be in good shape from that perspective," Roedel said.
He said he plans to keep people involved in the process, "because it's really about the community."
Five decades of experience
Roedel Companies has close to 50 years of experience developing, owning and operating hotels, and includes a construction arm that builds and renovates hotels.
The closest the company has worked is in Malone, where the construction arm of the company built the Holiday Inn Express for developer Chris LaBarge and ran it for a year. LaBarge is also currently working on a significant hotel project in the area: He wants to build a five-story hotel on Lake Flower.
Roedel Companies work up and down the east coast from Maine to Florida, and have several larger clients in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.
Roedel said he's looking forward to another excuse to spend time in Saranac Lake.
"I'm never rejecting a reason to be in Saranac (Lake)," he said. "So if this allowed me to get up there a few more days a month, that would be awesome."
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.