Stephen D. Cannerelli / The Post-Standard
The Gould Hotel, the old Seneca Falls hotel that has been closed a few years, is undergoing renovations and will be rechristened the Hotel Clarence, after the angelic character in the 1946 movie "It's A Wonderful Life." Seneca Falls bills itself as the real Bedford Falls, which is the name of the town in the movie.
Seneca Falls, NY -- The grand old Gould Hotel on Fall Street in downtown Seneca Falls is stepping into the future with a $6.2 million renovation and a new name with an old history -- Hotel Clarence.
The red brick, four-story exterior will resemble the original 1920s hotel, but the new interior will be modern and sophisticated, said co-owner Jake McKenna. Jay Bernhardt and McKenna also co-own The Red Mill Inn, in Baldwinsville.
"We want to create a truly great hotel and restaurant here, but with a twist," said Joachim Ohlin, director of hospitality for the project.
Stephen D. Cannerelli / The Post-Standard
Joachim Ohlin, director of hospitality of the Hotel Clarence, in Seneca Falls, looks out one of the fourth floor rooms overlooking downtown. The hotel is scheduled to open in June. Town officials and business owners hope the hotel's 48 rooms will help draw tourists.
The owners will use bold colors and modern design elements to create a warm, energetic interior, he said. The hotel will hold 48 rooms, including nine suites. There will be a restaurant, bar, ballroom and banquet facilities.
In a town that bills itself as the real Bedford Falls -- the site of the 1946 Frank Capra movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" -- the restored hotel is named for the angel rescued by the film's hero, George Bailey, who jumps from a bridge to save Clarence. The owners have taken the historic building and attached the movie image to it, McKenna said.
The hotel opening is planned for early June. But it can't be soon enough for residents of the town.
Speaking before Christmas, business owner Becky Bly of WomanMade Products, said: "I wish it happened this year."
It has been vacant for too long, said jeweler Mark Robinette, president of the Seneca Falls Business Association.
The Gould Hotel is critical to the downtown business district, said optometrist August Sinicropi. He approves of the planned renovations. It's a chance for the hotel to come to life and be better than it has ever been, he said.
People in the town are onboard with the project because of the hotel's long history, said Menzo Case, president of the Seneca Falls Savings Bank.
"Losing it has been a big deal for us," he said.
The Gould Hotel opened in February 1920 and has been the site of innumerable parties and special occasions.
Adriene Emmo is the co-chair of the "It's a Wonderful Life" weekend festival held annually in Seneca Falls. She remembered childhood Sunday brunches and seeing her parents dressed up for the policeman's ball held at the Gould.
"It was such a lovely hotel," she said. Sinicropi remembers frequent lunches at the hotel restaurant, right across the street from his optometry shop.
"There is history upon history for everyone with the Hotel Gould," he said.
Town Supervisor Peter Same remembered his now-deceased parent's 50th wedding anniversary party at the hotel. "I've seen it in its heyday," he said.
The hotel has been closed for several years.
While townspeople are eager to hold meetings, dinners and parties at the hotel, visitors to Seneca Falls need more places to stay. The town is in the heart of the Seneca and Cayuga wine trails, said Fred Gaffney of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.
Tourists also come to town for the "It's a Wonderful Life" celebration. And visitors and guests of the New York Chiropractic College need more places to stay, he said.
The National Women's Hall of Fame expects more than 1,000 people to attend an induction ceremony in October. Having another lodging facility gives Seneca Falls one more layer of appeal, said Christine Moulton, the hall's executive director.
"We see the hotel as a strategic partner," she said.
The Hall of Fame plans to expand and will attract even more visitors, Moulton said. When families vacation in the area, she said, Seneca Falls is a logical midway to both historic sites and the wine country.
Financing for the Hotel Clarence renovation is another example of community support.
The Seneca Falls Savings Bank and Tompkins Trust Company worked with the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency to loan $4.5 million to partners McKenna and Bernhardt at Bedford Falls Enterprises, LLC., said Case, the bank president. Of the $6.2 million planned for the project, McKenna said the partners expect to pay 20 percent.
The county's Industrial Development Agency negotiated a payment in lieu of taxes incremental funding arrangement with the school district, town, village and county for 10 years.
These taxing jurisdictions agreed to allow the hotel to make real estate tax payments at current rates, calculated before improvements to the hotel property. For a decade, the company will make loan payments to the IDA, said Robert Aronson, the agency's executive director. Then, the IDA will pay the banks.
Aronson grew up in Seneca Falls. His grandfather and father operated the Seneca Clothing Company, which sold men's and boys clothing. He closed the shop 12 years ago. He remembers a longtime downtown Seneca Falls bar named Muldoon's. Tom Muldoon was a colorful character, said Aronson, and locals from all walks of life were his customers.
The old mahogany bar in the Hotel Clarence came from Muldoon's.
"That's an ancient part of downtown Seneca Falls," Aronson said.