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Hotel would be far better in heart of Medina

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 October 2014 at 12:00 am

Editorial

Courtesy of Joseph Cardone – This rendering shows how the Medina Theatre and a neighboring warehouse could be transformed into a hotel and conference center on Main Street next to the railroad tracks.

MEDINA – A report from a consultant says a hotel could make money and be sustainable in Medina. That’s the good news for our county, which loses out on longer stays from visitors. Orleans County actually ranks dead last among the 62 counties in the state for visitor spending.

Many of our visitors are day-trippers, who make a drive out and then head back, often choosing to stay in hotels in Batavia. That deprives Orleans County and our businesses of the full economic impact of these guests.

The Orleans Economic Development Agency has been working to see if a hotel is sustainable in the county. The EDA hired Interim Hospitality Consultants to do a feasibility study for a new hotel in Medina. The firm, led by Edward Xanders, concluded a small hotel with 41 to 49 rooms would be profitable with at least an average daily occupancy rate of 60 percent.

That’s the good news.

The EDA has warmed up to a new chain, Cobblestone Inn and Suites, for the project that will need local investors. The EDA has land on Route 31A across from GCC in an industrial park. That spot would be prime for the project, EDA officials said during a board meeting on Oct. 10.

A chain motel might be an ideal fit for a community with not much of an entity, or for a Thruway stop. But it seems a poor choice for a place like Medina, which is seeing a rebound in its historic business district because it feels anti-chain with a distinctive collection of buildings and merchants. Visitors like Medina’s sense of place. It feels like a Norman Rockwell painting.

I think the chain model on the edge of town is the worst choice for the project and I hope local investors will steer the hotel to the downtown area. If investors go with the chain model it could find a home in the historic district, so more businesses could benefit from the visitors who would no doubt like to go for a walk in the downtown and along the canal, rather than by cornfields on 31A.

If the investors decide to follow the Cobblestone chain model, it seems to me the large parking lot across from the Post Office and next to the R.H. Newell building would work for the project, putting it right in the heart of the downtown.

If that spot isn’t quite right, the Snappy manufacturing site on Commercial Street along the canal might be the best choice. The investors could acquire the property, which is for sale, demolish it and put up the chain hotel. The visitors would be next to the historic Erie Canal, a lift bridge and lots of independent merchants.

I thought those might be the best options for a downtown location, but then Joe Cardone met with the Medina Business Association and presented renderings of hotel and conference center on Main Street. The Cardone family has owned the historic Medina theatre for decades and upgraded the site last year, opening it for events.

Photo by Tom Rivers – This warehouse could be converted into a hotel, giving Medina a distinctive place for visitors to stay in a historic district.

It is part of a block of big Medina sandstone buildings, including a giant warehouse along the railroad tracks. Cardone said the site is beyond shovel ready. It’s “hammer ready,” he told the Business Association.

Cardone envisions a shared entryway between the two buildings. He believes the conference center and hotel would drive traffic for each other, and other downtown businesses.

“They would be demand generators,” he said. “The conference center would help with the success and occupancy of the hotel.”

Those dominant Medina sandstone buildings would give the community a one-of-a-kind hotel and conference center that is sure to make a stronger impression on visitors than a cookie-cutter chain hotel. Cardone said the warehouse, owned by the Fuller family, is a 20,000-square-foot four-story site that could be carved up into hotel rooms.

“I have a keen interest in what’s best for the village and this would be a wonderful asset,” Cardone told the Orleans Hub. “There would be a big ripple effect for businesses. It merits looking into.”

There is an existing large parking lot behind the buildings and there is also room to expand.

The sandstone buildings happen to be in a state and national historic district, making renovations eligible for 40 percent in tax credits. Developers have used those credits to push through renovations of hotels at historic sites in Buffalo.

A project at the Cardone and Fuller buildings would use existing structures, solid buildings that can’t be duplicated by today’s build-it-in-a-hurry chain stores. And the 40 percent in tax credits is a major financial incentive.

Let’s say it cost $4 million to turn the Cardone and Fuller sites into a first-class hotel and conference center (I don’t think there are any cost estimates yet), the tax credits would turn that into a $2.4 million project. If it’s a $5 million project, the tax credits would make it $3 million. An $8 million project would be $4.8 million.

A chain hotel isn’t eligible for those tax benefits.

The reduced costs through tax credits is a major reason why the developers have been renovating some of the grand old buildings in Buffalo. And those projects have been a big part of the renaissance in Buffalo. It could do the same for Medina.