Travelers Hotel appeal fails to sway council

May 8, 2019

A last-ditch effort to save the century-old Travelers Hotel was unsuccessful.

The Rochester City Council rejected a citizen’s appeal of the commission’s decision that opened a path for the demolition of the former hotel.

“I think it’s important that we support (the Heritage Preservation Commission) and show them that we do listen to them and we do weigh what they say,” said Council Member Mark Bilderback, adding that he believes the commission did its due diligence in considering whether the building is a potential landmark.

The commission voted 4-3 on April 23 to oppose putting the property on the city’s list of potential landmarks, removing a potential obstacle to demolition.

Monday’s council vote was 6-1 to reject the appeal, with only Council Member Shaun Palmer opposing the decision.

Mayo Clinic, which purchased the building for nearly $1.7 million in 2001 and kept it in operation until 2016, started the process needed to demolish the building at 426 Second St. SW the following day. An application for a demolition has been approved.

Local historian Kevin Lund requested Monday’s council review within days of the commission’s decision, suggesting information provided by Mayo Clinic’s historical consultants should have been made available before the meeting.

“It was not included in the packet of information prior to the meeting, which could have potentially led to a different discussion or decision,” he wrote in a letter to Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer.

Charlene Roice, an architectural historian with Hess Roice Historical Consultants, defended the lack of a published presentation, noting an initial report was included in an earlier published agenda. She added that she doesn’t typically provide copies of her actual presentation before a meeting or hearing.

While Roice’s report on the hotel was sent to commission members in advance, it was also not found in the agenda packet for the April 23 meeting posted on the city’s website.

During that meeting, Lund advocated for naming the building as a potential landmark.

In his appeal to the City Council, he argued that more emphasis should have been placed on the buildings’ roles in the hospitality industry.

“There distinct properties are associated with Rochester’s early hotel industry and important hoteliers that were not associated with the dominant Kahler Hotel Corporation,” he wrote. “The restored Parker Hotel is one of the few remaining hotel types in this category.”

Commission members did touch on the role the building played in the city’s hospitality-based history.

“The hotel could be preserved because it’s a remnant of the hospitality business that has all but disappeared,” commission member Tom Meilander, said noting the hotel could be seen as a significant part of what an emerging industry marked by “ma-and-pa-type operations.”

The brief reference, however, was overshadowed by discussions of Julius Reiter and Billy Friedel, the two men who build separate buildings that were later combined to become the Traveler’s Hotel.

Reiter, a five-term Rochester mayor and one-time vice presidential candidate, built the first building in either 1918 or 1920. It initially provided small apartments for transient visitors.

Friedell, a former circus musician turned developer, built a neighboring hotel between 1927 and 1931. It catered to single women in the city.

Meilander opposed using the two men as a reason for considering the property as a potential landmark.

“The characters, we kind of put them on a pedestal,” he said, suggesting a monument could be erected to honor Reiter and Friedel if community members consider them historic figures.

The Travelers Hotel was placed in limbo after the Rochester City Council approved an updated heritage-preservation ordinance in 2017.

The former hotel had been earmarked as one of several buildings to be considered for potential landmark status but was removed with approximately 30 other properties when their owners challenged the effort to include them on the list.

With the Heritage Preservation Commission’s decision, the building was the final Mayo Clinic property to be taken off the “challenged” list. Some have been put on the lost of potential landmarks, and others have been removed from consideration.

A handful of other properties, including several homes and churches, remain on the “challenged” list awaiting a commission decision