The long journey is nearly complete for the historic Adelphi Hotel, as a team of investors, craftsmen and designers finishes off a two-year, $7 million overhaul that will end up in the five-year, $28 million range.
The Broadway landmark is expected to reopen to guests late this summer, though there’s too much left to do to set a firm date.
When those first guests walk in, much of the work that was done will be invisible, for it was the skeleton of the hotel that had to be replaced. The visible portions — all the things that made the place special — had to be restored or rebuilt identically.
Of all the facets of the project, the signature achievement might well be the rebuild of the central staircase, said Dominick Ranieri, the project architect.
Making the whole hotel wheelchair-accessible was a major undertaking; restoring the columns and veranda that distinguish the facade was non-negotiable; building a glass conservatory has created a beautiful new focal point.
But saving the rotting staircase was among the most rewarding pieces of the project, Ranieri said.
The task went to Bennett Stair Co. of Ballston.
David Bennett, who began working on staircases out of high school, went into business for himself at age 22 and has been building stairs since. He says this was not the biggest he’s ever worked on, but it was one of the most complex.
It was essentially a three-dimensional puzzle made of pieces that were bent, sagging and/or damaged. His team had to take the staircase apart; measure and label each piece; take them back to the shop to replicate with new wood; and put it all back together, square and level instead of sagging.
The final challenge: Ranieri and the construction team had changed the fundamental dimensions of the space with all the reinforcing work they had done. The floors were more than two inches higher than they had been. So an exact replica of the staircase down to the fraction of the inch would not have fit. The stair parts had to be fractionally tweaked to work.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Bennett said. “The project for us was about a year and a half.”
The disassembly was fairly quick. Fabricating the pieces of the new staircase — oak treads, poplar risers and molding — took the most time. Reconstruction (shown in a striking time-lapse video on Bennett’s Facebook page) took about four months.
The project was complicated by the fact that it was an exacting replication of what was built 140 years ago, not a from-scratch construction that would benefit from current-day engineering and Bennett’s decades of experience.
The idea of preserving and restoring was front and center in Bennett’s thoughts as he took the staircase apart.
“That was my biggest worry, that something would happen to one of the pieces between the Adelphi and my shop,” Bennett said. “I was definitely happy when the last piece was back on the Adelphi property. It was a feel-good moment when the last piece went in.”
One last move by the stair-building crew will join the lore surrounding the old hotel: Before sealing the hollow newel post at the base of the 50-foot staircase, they made it a time capsule of sorts, with business cards signed by people who’d worked on the stairs, snapshots of work in progress, and an edition of Saratoga Living magazine containing an article about the Adelphi restoration project.
It’s not an exact replica: Modern safety features were added to the staircase during the restoration. The railing had been only 27 inches high, which is disconcertingly low next to a potential fall of up to 50 feet, so it was raised to 34 inches by building up the balusters with more black walnut.
And the balusters themselves were quite far apart, enough so that a small child could squeeze through intentionally or fall through accidentally. A steel rod was threaded between them, thin enough to be unobtrusive but strong enough to hold back a falling object, or child.
Solutions to challenges like these are sprinkled throughout the hotel as the project nears completion.
“It’s a very interesting project, we’ve loved it,” said Ranieri.
But it was much more than he or Richbell Capital, owner of Adelphi Hospitality, had bargained.
“It was many interesting discoveries once we started peeling the onion,” Ranieri said.
Did anyone have the sense of being overwhelmed at any point?
“I think all of us,” Ranieri admitted. “But everyone stuck to it, no one’s shied away from the challenge.”
Richbell Capital bought the Adelphi in 2012 for $4.5 million with the intention of hosting guests through the end of that summer’s racing season, then closing for a $6 million to $7 million renovation and reopening in 2014 as a boutique hotel.
That plan had to be discarded almost immediately, Ranieri recalls.
It turned out there were no known surviving blueprints, so a team of engineers had to measure and diagram everything themselves. In doing so, they found that the circa-1880 rear wing was not as well-built as the front wing on Broadway, constructed only three years earlier.
Major modifications in the 1930s and 1970s had thinned or entirely severed portions of the king trusses, thick timbers that hold up the building. Wood everywhere was rotting, sagging and bowing out.
Left unchecked, the building was probably on course for structural failure at some point in the future, Ranieri said.
“We spent over a year evaluating the existing structure and coming up with solutions,” he said. “That whole back building, the floors were undulating.
“That pushed the project into, ‘We better rethink this,’ “ Ranieri continued. “Initially, the hope was that it was pretty sound and we could do some remedial repair.”
As the project evolved, the whole building was jacked up, the granite foundation was trimmed, structural steel was installed, and each floor was leveled.
The Broadway facade, a beautiful and famous landmark, was extensively rotted — porch, beams, joists, columns and all.
“We had to remove all of that,” Ranieri said.
One of the most creative solutions in the whole project was applied to the box columns on the facade, the appearance of which had to be kept exactly the same: A hole was bored into the roof above each column and steel supports threaded down into the hollow center.
“That should be good for 200 more years,” Ranieri said, a note of pride in his voice.
The Binghamton native has been an architect for more than 30 years, and has worked extensively on multi-unit residential projects in the Capital Region and Florida. He credits his studies at the University of Miami School of Architecture, under some of the major figures in the New Urbanism movement, for his sense of design. But other experiences — hands-on work in the construction industry early in his career — helped prepare him for the Adelphi project, Ranieri said.
“In that sense, it may have helped me not be a one-sided architect,” Ranieri said. “We’ve never been allowed to just draw a pretty picture.”
This helps a lot on a project like the Adelphi.
“I call myself a creative problem solver,” he said, though adding, “I rely heavily on my structural engineer.”
The Adelphi project proceeded from the basement to the roof as the structural integrity was restored, and then from the roof back down to the ground floor as the cosmetics were restored. As the work to be done evolved, so did the final product that was being created. Adelphi Hospitality now will present the Adelphi as a regional destination hotel rather than a boutique hotel — a reason to come to the city, rather than just a nice place to stay for people who happen to be in the city.
“Everything jumped to a higher level of quality,” Ranieri said. Jumping also were the costs to do the work, and the level of revenue necessary to recoup the investment.
The current best estimate is that revenue starts rolling in at the end of this summer from the hotel rooms and the three associated upscale food and beverage locations on the ground floor: Salt & Char, a luxury steakhouse that is up and running, and The Blue Hen and Morrissey’s, a restaurant and bar respectively that are not yet open.