Downtowner Motor Inn was a misfit for Rochester NY

The Downtowner Motor Inn opened to much fanfare in 1962, but within 15 years the place was closed and labeled abandoned.

Rochester officials used a new and controversial approach to sell the motel at the corner of Broad Street and South Avenue after it was seized for unpaid taxes. The Downtowner was converted into apartments, but was later demolished to make way for the expansion of the Central Library.

The Downtowner was within walking distance of the brand new Midtown Plaza and preceded two other soon to be built downtown hotels, the Americana on State Street and the Holiday Inn on Main and St. Paul streets. These hotels still exist, under different names and managements.

So what was wrong with the Downtowner?

The Downtowner Motor Inn lobby as it looked in 1962, the year it opened.

“It was a totally out of place 1950s-style motel in a central city,” said Monroe County Legislator Paul Haney, who was a councilman when the Downtowner went bankrupt. “It was a cheap place to stay… It was a misfit from the start.”

When it opened in 1962, the Downtowner proudly claimed to be “the region’s most modern facility for business meetings and conventions.” A news report from the time extolled the 230-room motel’s “turquoise blue and light red porcelain panels” and its underground parking lot, “direct-line telephones”, free ice cream and “boomerang-shaped” heated outdoor pool. .

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Downtown officials took out two newspaper advertisements for the opening which called the location “elegant” and said “the decor has an air of exquisite luxury and comfort”. Motel guests could relax by the pool, overlooking South Avenue and directly across from the Rundel Memorial Library building.

The place had three restaurants – the Downtowner Restaurant, the King’s Court Dining Room, and the Satire Lounge. A 1964 advertisement promoted music by the Earle Jerris Trio (“for your dancing pleasure”) and evening dishes such as veal cordon bleu and lobster. News reports reported that the property was valued at $2.5 million in 1968.

The Downtowner - cold, empty and silent in 1978.

A North Carolina-based company purchased the Downtowner in 1972 and changed the name to the Nathaniel Rochester Motor Inn. Three years later, a consortium of banks took title on unpaid taxes of nearly $500,000. The energy crisis at the time, a recession, and poor management were blamed for the motel’s financial difficulties.

A bank official defended the Downtowner’s legacy in a November 1976 article in the Democrat and Chronicle.

“In 1962, (the motel) hit the market,” the bank official said. “It all made sense. If it didn’t, Americana and the Holiday Inn wouldn’t have come downtown. People like that don’t come to a dying market.”

For a time, Xerox Corp. rented half of the motel rooms for office use. Four small businesses continued to rent space in the building, including a cafe and a taxi rank.

The banking group sold the motel to a group of businessmen, who changed the name to “The Downtowner” but closed the place in October 1977 and stripped it of all furniture, kitchen equipment, etc. . Utility bills went unpaid, and city officials stepped in to make sure the heat stayed on so water pipes wouldn’t freeze and burst in the winter. Back taxes also remained unpaid, and the city acquired the property on foreclosure.

The Downtowner Motor Inn on South Avenue can be seen in this 1976 photo.

It was then that the city authorities decided to let an independent non-profit organization called Downtown Development Corporation get involved. The DDC would listen to developer offers and pick the best proposal out of the public spotlight. This “secret” arrangement angered some city council members, but Haney said it was necessary.

“In the game of downtown development, playing by the same old rules just doesn’t work,” Haney said in a 1978 Times-Union article. “We have to play the games by new rules to transform the downtown.”

Farash Construction Corp. bought the Downtowner for $165,000. Company chairman Max Farash called it a “civic obligation” to keep the downtown business core healthy. Farash had built thousands of apartments in suburban Monroe County, but the Downtowner was the company’s first foray into downtown.

Both buildings have been extensively renovated while the Downtowner has been converted into apartments. Farash said the motel was “built for a southern climate” and needed to be more energy efficient. The iconic vertical “Downtowner” sign was removed in 1980.

Haney said in October the venture failed because Farash could not attract tenants. “They made some weird apartments,” he said. The place was demolished in 1995.

Whether modern or misfit, the Downtowner has surely made its mark in downtown Rochester.

What happened to…? is a report on the Rochester haunts of yesteryear and is based on our archives.

Morrell is a freelance writer based in Rochester.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in October 2014.

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