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The sign above the Hotel Saranac has long welcomed visitors, but for years the destination has been in decline. Photo: Susan Waters
The sign above the Hotel Saranac has long welcomed visitors, but for years the destination has been in decline. Photo: Susan Waters

Gov. Cuomo takes personal interest in Hotel Saranac deal

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken an interest in a New Hampshire-based company's plan to buy and renovate an iconic hotel in downtown Saranac Lake. The governor participated in a conference call Monday about Roedel Companies' proposal to acquire the Hotel Saranac.

On Tuesday, Cuomo dispatched the head of Empire State Development to Saranac Lake for a meeting with the project's developer, who's seeking $5 million from the state.

The pending sale of the Hotel Saranac is one of two major hotel deals announced within two weeks of each other this summer in Saranac Lake. Both projects have been generating a lot of interest and plenty of enthusiasm in the community.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

...to have that kind of personal attention from the governor himself...is humbling and overwhelming
-Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau
Walk through downtown Saranac Lake and it’s hard not to find a local resident or business owner who’s not excited about Roedel Companies’ plan to buy and restore the Hotel Saranac.

Tim Fortune owns an art gallery a few doors down from the hotel. He said his business prospered when the hotel was run by Paul Smith’s College. Things haven’t been the same since the college sold it nearly seven years ago, he said.

The Hotel Saranac's gift shop and restaurants once anchored the village's downtown. Photo: Susan Waters
The Hotel Saranac's gift shop and restaurants once anchored the village's downtown. Photo: Susan Waters
"It did have an impact on my business and I would assume just about all the retail businesses in Saranac Lake," Fortune said. "So when Mr. (Fred) Roedel (III) and his family expressed an interest and I read his personal connection to Saranac Lake, that really has raised my hopes and got me very excited."

Locals pin the demise of the hotel on the Arora family, which bought the property from the college in 2007. Sewa Arora has said local residents stopped frequenting the hotel and stopped sending their visiting family and friends to stay there because of the unpopular business decisions - like cutting personnel and closing its restaurant and bar – that he had to make when he took over.

He's said there's no way he could have run the hotel like the college, which consistently lost money running it as a teaching institution, not a business.

In a recent interview, Arora acknowledged the bad blood between him and the community, although he said that didn't influence his decision to sell the property.

"I wish it could have been different, but the whole thing, the way it started, it went beyond reproachment, beyond anything that we could have corrected,” Arora said. “The locals felt so strongly that they just hated us."

Arora said he had been approached by several interested buyers over the years. So why sell now? He said the offer made by the Roedel Companies was reasonable and he felt like they had the wherewithal to make the project happen.

"These people are professional," Arora said. "This place needs a lot of construction work, and they are experts in that field because this is what exactly they do in addition to operating other hotels. It will be in very good hands.”

Fred Roedel III, developer of the Hotel Saranac. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy of the <em>Adirondack Daily Enterprise</em>
Fred Roedel III, developer of the Hotel Saranac. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise
In a news release announcing the deal, Roedel Companies said it will “restore the property to its historic grandeur by renovating (the hotel's) ballroom, lobby, 86 guest rooms and first-floor retail space.”

Fred Roedel, a principal in the company and the head of its construction arm, said Tuesday that he’s seeking $5 million from the state on top of the $8 million his company is putting up for the project.

Roedel was in Saranac Lake Tuesday for a meeting with Ken Adams, the president and CEO of Empire State Development. Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said he participated in a conference call about the project Monday with Adams and Governor Cuomo.

“There’s 19 million people in the state of New York, and we’re a village of 5,400, and to have that kind of personal attention from the governor himself and from Mr. Adams is humbling and overwhelming,” Rabideau said.

Roedel said he hopes to close on the hotel very soon.

“If everything can work out properly we would expect (in) the next 60 days that the property would be in full swing with design, we’d begin actual work and our goal would be to get it open next year,” Roedel said.

The Hotel Saranac deal is one of two major hotel developments in the works in Saranac Lake. In late July, Malone developer Chris LaBarge announced plans to build a five-story hotel on the site of three existing Lake Flower motels.

Chris LaBarge describes an architectural rendering of his proposed 90-room hotel on Lake Flower at Wednesday night's Saranac Lake planning board meeting. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy <em>Adirondack Daily Enterprise</em>
Chris LaBarge describes an architectural rendering of his proposed 90-room hotel on Lake Flower at Wednesday night's Saranac Lake planning board meeting. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise
LaBarge presented a preliminary design for the project at a special village Planning Board meeting earlier this month.

“The scope of the project is to create an upscale destination hotel resort on Lake Flower,” he said. “It will have approximately 90 rooms, standard size rooms and suites. It will have a spa, which will have an indoor pool, outdoor pool and hot tub, an exercise room, manicure spaces and all the things that go with a higher end spa.”

The Lake Flower hotel project has also seen strong support in the community, although some have questioned the height of the proposed shoreline building. Planning board members like Molly Hann said that’s one thing they’ll want to see more details on.

"That seems to be the feedback I'm hearing from the public already," Hann said. "'How is this going to impact the viewshed? Is it going to be this big wall of the building that blocks the view?’”

LaBarge said the Adirondack Park Agency, which also has jurisdiction over the project, will require a visual impact analysis of the hotel.

LaBarge is asking the village to rezone the motel properties to a planned unit development district, a complicated and yet-to-be-used planning process that puts the final decision in the hands of the village board. Village officials have said the process will be just as rigorous as the normal review, if not more so.

Like Roedel Companies, LaBarge is also seeking state funding for his hotel project, which has a total price tag of between $15 and $18 million. LaBarge has applied for $2.2 million from the state.

“We are not asking for the maximum amount we could ask for, we are only asking for an amount to make our feasibility plan economically viable,” he said.

The Lake Flower hotel project will be back before the village planning board next month.

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