(Editor's note: Historic Saranac Lake submitted this article to the Enterprise about 12 hours before a Hotel Saranac caretaker noticed that the building's basement was full of water due to a sprinkler pipe that froze and broke. Fred B. Roedel III told the Enterprise Tuesday that the flooding "doesn't slow us down, doesn't change our plans.")
Since hearing the news of the purchase of the Hotel Saranac, many of us have been wondering what will happen to the building. Historic Saranac Lake recently had the opportunity to take a tour with Fred B. Roedel III, partner of Roedel Companies and president of ROK Builders. Although the hotel certainly has seen better days, by the end of the tour we were feeling very hopeful about its future.
Fred B. Roedel III stands in the second-floor dining room of the Hotel Saranac in Saranac Lake. Roedel is a partner of Roedel Companies and president of ROK Builders, which plans to renovate the hotel.
(Photo — Historic Saranac Lake)
Roedel Companies intends to perform a faithful restoration to return the hotel to its original grandeur. Fred Roedel, whose family goes back several generations in Saranac Lake, understands the hotel's historic importance.
"The Hotel Saranac is an icon of the community and will once again become downtown's centerpiece," he said. "Every local person has stories of special times and events experienced at the hotel, and we feel very strongly that we need to honor the special place the Hotel Saranac has held in the community."
A key part of the restoration plan is getting the hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mr. Roedel has contracted with Landmark Consulting LLC, an architectural preservation firm from Albany, to prepare the nomination. Once listed on the National Register, the rehabilitation project will qualify for a tax credit that will subsidize 40 percent of the cost of restoration. In exchange for this tax break, all work done to the building will need to be pre-approved by the state Office of Historic Preservation.
On our recent tour, Mr. Roedel pointed out many of the changes being planned. Roedel Companies intends to fully restore the grand ballroom and dining room. Long covered by carpet, marble terrazzo and hardwood flooring will be uncovered and restored. Preservation specialists will bring back the grandeur of the lobby ceiling. The iconic sign and towering smokestack will be preserved. The building and design teams are now identifying such key interior and exterior spaces and elements and beginning plans for their preservation. Experts in the state Office of Historic Preservation will provide oversight to make sure the work is done appropriately. Landmark Preservation consultant Kim Alvarez explained, "The goal is to, as much as possible, retain the original fabric, layout and character of the building as originally conceived."
Does this mean that everything must stay the same, right down to the toilets with the black seats that many may remember? No. In fact, many things will change in order to bring the hotel up to modern standards of safety, comfort and convenience that guests from near and far expect. The National Register listing ensures that the key elements of the building are preserved, particularly exterior and public spaces, but allows for other renovations that will not detract from the overall historic character of the building. Guest rooms will be completely renovated: furnishings replaced, bathrooms modernized and some of the rooms enlarged. Roedel Companies will remove many of the additions and changes that have been made over the years in favor of earlier design. The unsightly rear boiler building will be removed, and the rear entrance will be completely changed to its original configuration. The ground floor that contains the lobby entrance, restaurant, gift shop and bar will be overhauled, reverting to the original arcade design that provided a walkway straight through from Main Street to Academy Street. Changes will be made to provide modern hotel amenities and full handicap accessibility.
Mr. Roedel, whose company has 45 years of experience developing, constructing, managing and designing hotels, explained, "The lobby space has to be comfortable, inviting and flexible to meet the changing needs of visitors through the seasons. The goal is to provide a seamless and effortless entrance to the building." Toward that end, a low-profile parking structure is being planned.
Roedel Companies will set up webcams so that the public can watch the ongoing restoration of the guest rooms, ballroom, lobby and other spaces. Mr. Roedel expects the cameras to be operational by spring and posted on the website hotelsaranac.com. Through its website and Hotel Saranac Facebook page, the company is soliciting personal photos and memories of the hotel to aid in the restoration and ongoing outreach. Historic Saranac Lake plans to write a monthly article about the restoration, to be posted on hotelsaranac.com.
The tax credit program is not just good news for the Hotel Saranac. Many of our historic downtown buildings are already listed on the National Register and also eligible for the tax credit for substantial restoration and rehabilitation projects. In 1980, Historic Saranac Lake listed 196 structures in the village on the National Register, including six historic districts and many individual cure cottages. The Berkeley Square Historic District includes the Harrietstown Town Hall and 23 downtown buildings. These buildings, some of which are on the market or recently purchased and in need of substantial restoration, are eligible for the 40 percent credit. Owners, Realtors and potential investors are welcome to contact Historic Saranac Lake to find out more about this valuable opportunity.
With the publicity generated by the Hotel Saranac's preservation, we anticipate a restoration renaissance downtown that will have a positive impact on every business interest and taxpayer in the community. This is why Gov. Cuomo supports the project and Mayor Rabideau worked tirelessly to help make it happen.
With Roedel Companies' careful restoration and professional management, the Hotel Saranac will have something for everyone. Not only will it be a draw for history buffs, but rehabilitated to modern standards of comfort and convenience, it will be a popular destination for anyone visiting the area. And with its beautiful and accessible public spaces, the building will serve again as a center of community life. For all of these reasons, the hotel project holds the promise of economic revitalization for the entire community. The old hotel is in good hands, and soon it will be a shining example of the value and promise that so many of our historic buildings contain.