Shuttered Hotel Oneida headed back into the limelight
ONEIDA — Hotel Oneida used to be a hub of social gathering and community, and the city of Oneida wants to bring that spirit back.
Hotel Oneida has been around since 1927, when it first opened. However, in the early 2000s, it fell into disrepair and stopped being used.
Robert Sullivan, the owner of Sullivan Contracting, came into the picture when he was contracted to perform asbestos removal work.
“The previous owner was doing interior renovations and window replacement. We took the asbestos caulking off the windows, removed the asbestos floor tile, removed the exposed pipe insulation, and abated the old boiler,” Sullivan said. “We did all the work, but we didn’t get paid for it. ”Sullivan said that they tried to get payment from the previous owner as best they could without going to court. Sullivan said that they had to put a mechanic’s lien on the property because they hadn’t heard back from the owner. When a mechanic’s lien is put on a property, the debt is put on the property itself.
“We were hoping the owner would come to his senses and pay us for the work we performed, but he didn’t,” Sullivan said. “After around two years, the next step in a mechanic’s lien is to file for foreclosure action. We hoped then the owner would come to the table and negotiate with us. But again, he didn’t, and the building went up for public auction.”
Sullivan was the sole bidder on the property. The building was behind on its taxes to the county, school, and district.
“My opening offer was the back taxes and I took ownership,” Sullivan said. “So, my initial investment in Hotel Oneida out of pocket was the asbestos abatement and the back taxes.”
Hotel Oneida still needed repairs and renovations, so it wasn’t even close to being ready to open. It would have cost millions of dollars to completely fix up the building, so it just sat there for more than 20 years.
In 2018, the city made a committee that met regularly and held forums so that all residents could share their ideas and help make a plan for downtown Oneida. In 2019, when Leo Matzke was mayor, city officials sent in an application, but they were not able to win the grant through the competitive process.
In 2021, the Downtown Revitalization Grant was applied for again. The Planning Director at the time, Cassie Rose, met with people to get their ideas and suggestions for a new application.
And just like last time, Hotel Oneida was at the top of everyone’s list.
Supervisor Matthew Roberts talked to Edward Riley of Hotel Syracuse Restoration around the summer of 2019. They were both working on the Hotel Syracuse project. Roberts is the president and co-founder of Sherrill Manufacturing, which supplied the hotel with flatware.
“Roberts called me up and told me about the hotel in Oneida and how the city wanted something done with it,” Riley said. “He asked if I would be interested in meeting with [Sullivan].”
Riley met with Roberts, Sullivan, Mayor Helen Acker, and representatives of Madison County and took a walk through the building.
“It didn’t scare me,” Riley said. “I said at the time that it was another project that could be transformative for downtown Oneida. It’s had a tough history, but I think it could become something that everyone can be proud of.”
New York State gave $10 million to bring new life to the downtown area of Oneida. Of that, $2.9 million was set aside to fix up the Hotel Oneida.
The developers plan to turn the building into 19 apartments on the top three floors as part of the proposed restoration and adaptive reuse program.
There would be six one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment on the second floor.
There would be five one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment on the third and fourth floors.
On the ground floor and lower level of the building, there will be a Shaughnessy’s Pub Restaurant and facilities for catering.
The new look of the building will be reflected in its new name, which will be The Oneida.
“I think the vision we have for the building today is no different than what it was when it was first built and in its heyday,” Riley said. “It served as the main gathering point for business, social gatherings, and more. It was part of the social fabric of the city, just like the many other old hotels we’ve seen. They’re like an old pair of slippers that you never want to get rid of because they were so comfortable.”
Riley also said that The Oneida could be a key part of bringing downtown back to life, which Acker agreed with.
“I think this could be the cornerstone of Oneida’s future,” Acker said. “It’s going to be huge. And it’s been said before: If you build it, they will come.”
Riley said that when it comes to future employment, they commit to doing as much as they can locally.
“That’s not just construction,” he said. “When it comes to hiring, we need quite a few people who want to show up, work, and learn. And this makes an impact in the community with the permanent jobs coming in.”
When everything is up and running, The Oneida is looking to have 54 people employed both full-time and part-time, equating to 24 full-time equivalent positions.
Riley said he was thankful for the city and its efforts with its downtown revitalization project and believes it’s going to be successful for not just the city, but the project as well.
“If this project were done alone, I feel it would have a much harder time being successful,” Riley said. “But with all of these other projects coming in that are going to enhance the whole downtown, I think we need to thank the mayor, the administration, and everyone around the DRI process for their thoughtfulness, how they did it, and their vetting process to ensure the city got the projects that are going to make the largest positive impact.”
With work going forward with The Oneida, an interest in its past has people interested in any pictures taken when the Hotel Oneida was in its prime.
Those with any pictures or other historical artifacts from Hotel Oneida should email Riley at email@example.com.
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