Commission recommends 'landmark' status for century-old hotel
The Heritage Preservation Commission voted 6-4 Tuesday night to recommend the former Hotel Carlton be designated a "landmark property" under the city's preservation ordinance.
The vote followed a lengthy public comment period, in which community members debated whether the building has significant historical value. A final decision now rests in the hands of the Rochester City Council.
If the hotel — now a Days Inn — is identified as a landmark property, it would become one of about a dozen sites in Rochester to be placed under the designation. The only properties currently protected as landmarks are buildings also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the Plummer House, Chateau Theatre and Rochester Armory.
Under the city ordinance, a landmark is a property "so essential to the historic fabric of the City and has a demonstrated quality of significance that preservation must be mandated regardless of a property owner's consent shall be designated as a Landmark Property or landmark District."
The debate over the Days Inn site — also home to the Pannekoeken restaurant — is seen as the first big test to Rochester's preservation ordinance, which was adopted in late 2016.
A grassroots group supporting landmark status, Preservation Rochester, says a decision on the Carlton "will set the tone for preservation in this city." A recent memo for the group warned, "If this historic property is not considered a Landmark, it will be at risk for demolition and tear down."
Landmark status prevents owners from moving, demolishing or making major altercations to a property without consent from the city council. A property owner can still request a demolition permit, but he or she would have to show their property meets any one of the following criteria:
- The property has been determined by the City to be an imminent hazard to public safety and the owner/applicant is unable to make the needed repairs in a timely manner;
- The Structure is not structurally sound; or
- No documentation exists to support or demonstrate that the property has historic, architectural, archaeological, engineering or cultural significance.
The developer Bob Dunn had proposed tearing down the Carlton building and replacing it with a 16-story, $100 million tower. Dunn, however, later withdrew an application for demolition, at least in part, because of concerns that the building could potentially be deemed historic.
A report released by his firm, Hammes Sports Development, concluded that the building is "obsolete" and that it is "not feasible to renovate the existing building" given its structure and mechanical/electrical systems.
Prior to Tuesday's commission meeting, an attorney for the property's owner wrote a letter to the city stating his opposition to landmark status.
"By designating the Property as a local landmark, the City would be stripping MKDI of many of the valuable property rights its holds as the owner of the Property," wrote attorney Brian McCool, referring to his client, Mark Kramer of MKDI LLC. "In short, MKDI would no longer have the ability to use and deal with its property as it deems fit."
McCool contended that the landmark status provides an economic burden without offering clear financial incentives for renovating the property. The ordinance states the city "may authorize funding sources to create a financial incentive program" encouraging land owners to preserve their property for historical purposes. It does not, however, identify specific funding mechanisms for historic preservation projects.
Among other objections outlined in the letter, McCool claimed that four members on the commission should recuse themselves from participating in the vote due to what he described as "conflicts of interest."
McCool's letter was one of about 30 submitted to the city objecting to a landmark designation for the hotel. The letters' authors argued that "other than being old, there is nothing special about the property."
A 2016 study conducted by an outside consultant, 106 Group, found the Hotel Carlton — built in 1920 during an economic boom period in Rochester centered around Mayo Clinic's growth — met two of eight pieces of criteria required for a property to be considered for landmark designation. The Carlton is the only hotel from the time period still standing in Rochester.
"Places like the Carlton Hotel building are what give Rochester its identity," architect Adam Ferarri wrote for the Med City Beat in 2016. "A glossy rendering or flashy animation is fun to look at, but has no substance. The much more powerful story, with lasting impact, is the narrative that accompanies the Carlton Hotel."
The council has not yet set a date for discussion on the future of the hotel. We will continue to follow this story and provide updates along the way.
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Cover photo: The property as it stands today