5. Saranac Lake hotel projects advance

The Hotel Saranac’s new rooftop sign is hoisted up the side of the building on Academy Street in September. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

SARANAC LAKE — The two major hotel projects that have dominated much of the news in this village for the past three years will likely continue to do so again in 2017.

As 2016 came to an end, neither a proposed shoreline resort on Lake Flower nor a renovated and reopened Hotel Saranac had been realized. However, both projects moved forward. They also crossed paths in the courts, courtesy of a lawsuit brought against the village by Roedel Companies, the owners of the Hotel Saranac.

When the year began, it had only been about a month since Saranac Lake Resort LLC, a new group of investors, had taken over the proposed Saranac Lake Resort and Spa, a 93-room, four-story hotel that would also include a shoreline restaurant and conference center space. Their identities remained a secret until July 1, when they were finally named: Leland C. “Lee” Pillsbury, a hospitality industry executive and investor, and Mark Pacala, whose work has focused on health care and senior housing investments.

About a week later, the village Planning Board ended several months of deliberation over the project, approving it on a 4-0 vote with one abstention and a long list of conditions. Board member Molly Hann said she wasn’t comfortable with 203 River Street still in the Lake Flower Planned Unit Development District, a new zoning district the village created for it in 2015. The new developers said they no longer needed 203 River St. for off-site parking for the resort, but opponents of the project said its removal requires Saranac Lake Resort LLC to submit a new PUDD application to the village board.

Nevertheless, the Planning Board signed off on the project, and the developers moved forward with their application to the state Adirondack Park Agency.

Joe Garso of Saranac Lake-based North Woods Engineering presents plans for the Lake Flower Resort to the Saranac Lake Planning Board in February. Sitting at left is project consultant Jacob Wright. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

A month later, however, Roedel Companies revealed it had purchased 203 River St. months earlier under the name Malone Real Estate LLC. The company filed a lawsuit challenging the Planning Board’s approval of the Lake Flower Resort and Spa. Fred Roedel III said the decision “violates existing land use codes” and should have been sent back to the village board “given the numerous modifications to and the lack of specifics contained in the proposal during (the) site plan review process.” Saranac Lake Resort LLC was also named in the lawsuit.

Critics of the Lake Flower hotel supported Roedel’s move, but others, like village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, rebuffed him for what he called an “obvious” attempt to stop or delay the potentially competing Lake Flower project. He went further, chiding Roedel for spending money on a lawsuit instead of on the restoration of the Hotel Saranac, the planned opening date of which continues to be moved back.

A few weeks later, Roedel Companies filed another lawsuit against the village board for denying access to a confidential memo that contained legal advice to the Planning Board regarding 203 River St. Both lawsuits are still pending.

In the meantime, renovation of the Hotel Saranac plodded along, with some stops and starts. Roedel Companies revealed in July that it had signed a franchise agreement to have the Hotel Saranac be part of Hilton Worldwide’s select Curio collection of independent hotels. Around the same time, work began on the hotel’s two-story parking garage. In September, the letters for the hotel’s new rooftop sign arrived and were installed, creating a buzz of excitement about the project.

In November, the Enterprise revealed that Roedel Companies had received a massive $35 million, part of which was to help finish the renovation, but it came with a big deadline. The loan documents say the project has to be complete and the hotel reopened and operating by May 1, 2017. Fred Roedel acknowledged that there’s a lot of work to do, but said at the time that he believes May 1 is a “reliable” completion date.

Work proceeds on the Hotel Saranac's new parking garage in November. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

A budget included with the loan documents showed the projected cost of the Hotel Saranac’s restoration has ballooned to more than $35 million. That’s more than two-and-a-half times the $13 million Roedel Companies said it would cost to buy and renovate the hotel in August 2013.

Roedel blamed the increases on a spike in construction costs and his company’s effort to make sure the Main Street landmark becomes “the very best product possible.”

The Lake Flower hotel project, meanwhile, was back before the Planning Board in December, when the board OKd several changes to the plans and conditions it had required. Project manager Jacob Wright said he hoped to have a complete APA application and win approval from the agency soon so construction of the resort could begin by spring 2017.