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Reinvention of historic Hotel Syracuse gives hope for future of downtown Syracuse

Marriott Syracuse Downtown
The front desk of the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, with a restored mural from the 1940s.

It’s taken 12 years, but the former Hotel Syracuse is once again open to the public. Rebranded as the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, visitors began staying at the historic structure in downtown Syracuse on Friday. It means a huge boost not only economically, but to the psyche of central New York, a region battered by a faltering economy and dwindling population in recent years.

The history of the Hotel Syracuse can be told in stories that go on and on -- of presidents and politicians, celebrities and iconic cultural figures, who all spent a night there. The historic hotel was built in 1924 by William Stone Post, one of the well-known hotel designers of the era.

But perhaps more important than the famous visitors, the hotel became a hub for central New Yorkers. A place where memories were born, during proms, parties, weddings and or even just a dinner after a day in what was once a vibrant downtown Syracuse shopping district. The hotel started having financial problems in the 1980s and ‘90s; the same time large corporations and retailers started leaving town.

So its return means more than increased hotel capacity in Syracuse.

“In one fell swoop, in one building, playing on our great history, and using that to forge a brighter future for all of us,” is how Onondaga Historical Association president Gregg Tripoli describes it.

Tripoli says he never doubted that the hotel would be reborn. But there were many missteps along the way. One owner after another with grand plans that fell through, taxes that couldn’t be paid -- there was even talk of tearing the whole thing down.

It all changed when developer Ed Riley, who’s from Syracuse, was able to buy it two years ago. He credits the right combination of skills to guide a massive historic renovation.

"My technical knowledge of doing it, from the basis of putting the building back together is there, plus the financial knowledge of putting business deals together as a developer, so that helps tremendously,” said Riley.

Every corner of the 261-room hotel was restored -- with terrazzo floors, to 20-foot columns in the grand lobby, to a restored 1940s mural behind the front desk. Rooms are appointed with Stickley furniture. And the focal points of the hotel, the Persian Terrace and Grand Ballroom, will host a growing number of events in coming months. 

All told, restoring the hotel to what it looked like in 1924, cost $76 million, with some help from government-based grants and tax breaks that range in the millions.

"We’re about $26 to 28 [million] as far as grants, but the other big issue is historic tax credits which generate another 15 [millilon],” said Riley.

With the hotel back in action, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner says a rebirth of downtown is inevitable.

"What we’ve seen is once you start with one project, all of a sudden the projects around it start to go. And I think you’re going to see that here as well," said Miner.

But more than that, the mayor says the rebirth of the iconic hotel brings a city and region, that’s suffered its share of setbacks, back to its roots.

"This is where our community came together and celebrated. And this ties us to the people we’ve loved and lost, and have been important to us.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.