The Cadillac hotel is beautiful. Constructed in 1920, the roughly 98-year-old tower adds a contrast to the modern buildings cropping up in a developing downtown. But, beautiful or not, change is coming to the city’s center and the fate of the Cadillac remains unclear.
Located at 45 Chestnut Ave, the aging hotel sits on prime real estate. The surrounding area is already being repurposed quickly, as seen in projects like renovations of the Sibley building or The Metropolitan, luxury apartments carved out of what was Chase Tower. And Parcel 5 is just a stone’s throw away.
But, unlike empty vessels waiting for new life, the Cadillac is very much occupied. Still a fully operational hotel, it rents rooms for $58.65 a night to anyone willing to walk through the door. However, the only tenants are typically homeless, mentally ill, addicted to drugs or otherwise unable to secure traditional housing.
As the area begins to change, businesses are being drawn to its potential with little consideration for the current situation. This includes Fuego Coffee, located at 167 Liberty Pole Way and opened in 2013. It’s directly behind the hotel.
“Wherever you’re gonna go, you’re gonna have different demographics of people,” said Tony Colon, co-owner of Fuego. He says he doesn’t see the Cadillac’s reputation impacting the cafe. They were interested in the potential the area had and the foot traffic new apartments and storefronts would bring.
“I think our customers understand the area that we’re in…we don’t really indulge the people at the Cadillac. Some businesses around here do,” said Kat Schwarz, a barista at the cafe who says as long as long as all customers are respectful they are welcome to stay.
Other business owners in the area want to see the Cadillac hotel shut down. Citing the clientele, they see it as a barrier to the progress being made in the area and a drain to their bottom line.
“They’re out here dealing drugs, prostitution, panhandling, mental health issues, they attack people crossing the street…it’s ridiculous,” said Brad Amedeo, Owner and Operations Manager at Minuteman Press, located next door to the Cadillac.
Amedeo has been in the area for nearly 30 years and makes contact with Cadillac residents on a daily basis. They either enter his shop or plant themselves out front, he said. It’s a concern he has brought up with past and present owners.
“My customers would rather me deliver than come down here and be accosted… People are afraid to come down here,” he said. He said he can’t understand how the city can allow the hotel to operate while simultaneously encouraging millions in new projects around it.
But, operate it must.
With room for those in need becoming harder to find, closing the Cadillac would mean evicting tenants with no place to go. Placing these individuals would be a large burden on the county and other agencies.
“It’s been a step for individuals when Monroe county is willing to pick up part of their cost of housing,” said Laurie Prizel, Executive Director of the Dimitri House in Rochester. Providing drop-in food programs and a men’s winter shelter, the Dimitri sees tenants from the Cadillac on a regular basis.
If they cannot get into a shelter, Prizel says many of them choose to return to the streets rather than live in what she calls “horrific conditions” at the hotel.
This article could go into detail about the state of the Cadillac. We could discuss the roaches, bed-bugs, and an overwhelming scent of urine embedded into the carpeting we saw during our visit there but, it’s nothing that other reports have not already described. The focus of this story is to explore how it has been allowed to operate like this and what impact future plans will have. We will not judge those that call the Cadillac home.
Organizations operating as shelters typically deal with city oversight. Inspections determine whether or not they are even able to serve food and make sure they are adhering to their capacity limits. The Cadillac has not been subject to the same standards although it does operate as a type of shelter.
“As a shelter I have to have people inspect…Monroe County has to come in and make sure I meet certain standards,” said Prizel. She said she takes issue with how the Cadillac has been allowed to house people in inhumane conditions and sometimes on the county dime. “My beef [has] always been that we’ve had individuals stay there a month or more at a time and the county is paying over 700-800 dollars a month,” said Prizel. “Just because they are homeless, does not mean they deserve to live is squalor.”
But it is a necessary evil and closing it is more complicated than it sounds. Prizel sits on several community committees dedicated to the homeless. She says they’re mostly in consensus.
“Oh my God, I mean we would be…..screwed!” said Prizel. “Because the House of Mercy is already filled above its maximum, we at Dimitri House are at capacity every night. Reach…is at capacity. St Joseph’s is filled to capacity. I don’t know where they would set people up.That’s why they tolerate it.”
But it would seem the Department of Social Services stopped tolerating it. The county has not placed people in the hotel since 2016, according to a county spokesperson.
It doesn’t mean they are not placed there by other agencies but for now, DSS is no longer footing the bill. It’s the start of what could be a long process of relocating the current clientele.
“We will work with the people who are currently living there along with other agencies to make sure they have a safe place to go at the end of the day,” said Joel Kunkler, Director of Housing Advocacy and Operations at Person Centered Housing Options.
Kunkler worked with former owners in the past to find permanent housing solutions for anyone at the Cadillac interested in relocating.
“We had case managers and workers in the hotel at the benevolence of previous owners…we had offices inside the hotel. We were working with the folks…that had a desire to leave,” said Kunkler, who said some residents are long-term. “There is probably someone right now who has lived there for 15 years.”
It seems requests have not been made by the new owners to assist tenants in the same way. There also have been no plans submitted to the city regarding what the building will become. This makes it hard for locals to get excited about new news regarding the hotels future.
In 2015, plans to repurpose the Cadillac to 56 market-value apartments and retail space was well-received. The Mayor’s office announced their support for the project with $500,000 being requested from the state to help fund the $7.9 million dollar revamp.
There was a buzz, but there was also a lack of transparency.
At the time the Cadillac was officially owned by Chestnut Elm LLC. It is not uncommon for developers to buy properties under Limited Liability Companies but there are several reasons for doing so. A group of investors could want to combine their efforts and represent their vision under one company name. Another is to dissociate the business, or person’s name from the property itself. To hide it in a way.
In City Council meetings Chestnut Elm LLC was represented by Ron Zour whose only available contact information is through a Linkedin page associated with his company, RRR Group LLC. More dead ends.
So after Zour and his clients (who turned out to be Ramji Inc according to county records) received approval from City Council…nothing happened.
“I wish I had more to report. The first deal didn’t go through all the way and it had nothing to do with us,” said Elaine Spaull, East District City Council representative. Spaull claimed the City of Rochester fully backed the deal and has always hoped someone would be able to completely develop the Cadillac and surrounding areas.
“It takes a lot of energy to make it work,” said Spaull who believed the owners of the Cadillac at the time just did not have the means to take on the ambitious project.
Cadillac Ventures LLC does have the means. Better known as DHD Ventures, they are continuing efforts to invest in Rochester’s downtown by acquiring the Cadillac hotel in October 2017,
They proudly own:
- The Alliance Building at 183 E Main Street.
- The Terminal Building at 37 S Fitzhugh Street.
The Hiram-Sibley building at 311 Alexander Street.
- The Gannett Building at 55 exchange Boulevard.
- 88 Elm Street attached to the Cadillac hotel
….and The Columbus Building at 50 Chestnut St, directly across the street from the cadillac hotel.
DHD Ventures also notes future projects they are developing within Rochester and have all sites listed on their website.
There is just one thing missing…The Cadillac Hotel.
“We’re not commenting at this time about that property,” said Ellen Van Camp, Director of Compliance at DHD Ventures.
While developers tend to keep future plans close to the chest, the Cadillac’s unique status make answers all the more important. As developers set their sights on the property and surrounding investments, it is essential to keep in mind what progress means for those that may not benefit from it.
Transparency is also key, especially when at-risk communities are stuck between and a maze of LLC’s and no-comments. Whether new homes are found for current tenants and the building is transformed or it continues to operate as a sort of safe haven, we need to look out for those that reside in the hotel. If that looks like DHD working with the City of Rochester, Monroe County and local agencies to place these individuals or DHD making sure that living conditions meet humane standards within the hotel, one thing is certain. All eyes should be on the Cadillac until a solution is found.