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You are here The Red Mill Inn News 2006  Story

Mercer Mill will be Inn & Conference Center

By Richard Palmer
Winter, 2006

Red Mill Inn Opening Soon in Baldwinsville


Red Mill Inn Project Boosts Baldwinsville
Red Mill Inn Project Boosts Baldwinsville

Red Mill Inn Project Boosts Baldwinsville

The transformation of Baldwinsville from a sleepy village to one of the premier canal waterfront communities in New York State is seen by observers as nothing less than a miracle. The result of an effective combination of redevelopment efforts in both the public and private sectors, officials say the new Red Mill Inn and Conference Center project is an exciting example of the village's resurgence.

Less than a decade ago, for example, what is known as Papermill Island was home to a paper manufacturing plant that had been abandoned since the mid 1950s.  Soon Village Mayor Dan O'Hara and the board of trustees had a vision. They saw real advantages in being on one of the busiest sections of the New York State Canal System.

Over the years, several non-partisan efforts with various levels of government and private investment have breathed new life into the community, with new stores, restaurants and other venues appearing.  The ultimate goal is to make Baldwinsville a tourist destination instead of just another place to pass through. There is an on-going effort to restore a canal era atmosphere to the community, complete with restored facades and rehabilitated buildings.

Local businesses, including Anheuser-Busch and Pepsi Cola, together with grants from various governmental agencies, made possible the re-development of Papermill Island, with its attractive new amphitheater. The accumulated grime of past industrial generations has been almost completely wiped away.

One of the big advantages Baldwinsville has is a canal lock right near the center of town -- something that gives waterborne travelers an opportunity to stop, look around, shop, and eat. There is plenty of docking space available, and during the summer months many boats tie up along the canal, some for several days at a time.

Soon to be added to this progressive spirit will be the Red Mill Inn, a multi-million dollar transformation of one of the village's oldest landmarks into a state-of-the-art, 32-room inn and conference center. Mercer Mill was one of several industrial complexes that once occupied local shore lines, taking advantage of abundant waterpower to run heavy machinery. The last operators were the Coltons, who decided to move to a more convenient and larger facility in Clay about three years ago.    

Last spring the structure was purchased by area businessmen Jay Bernhardt (the founding publisher of Mercury Publications, owner of this newspaper) and Jake McKenna, who plan to maintain its original 19th Century appearance while creating a modern inn and conference center. Both men say they are excited about maintaining the historical integrity of the village waterfront.

"It will strengthen Baldwinsville's position as a tourist destination," Mr. Bernhardt said, adding the adaptive reuse of the building will not include a restaurant or bar.  "We don't want to compete with local businesses, we want to complement them," Mr. McKenna added.

Construction of the inn is underway, and there are plans for a formal grand opening in May. The facility, which will include a 43-car parking lot, is reportedly one of the first inn and conference center developments along the revitalized state canal system.

It will be equipped with the latest high speed Internet and teleconference systems, designed especially to accommodate business travelers. "There is no expense spared," according to Mr. Bernhardt.

The inn will be able to accommodate visitors to the areas special events, including fishing derbies and outdoor activities on nearby Papermill Island. An attention-grabbing new idea is to encourage the growing interest in carp fishing, something that has rapidly developed in England. Carp derbies and invitationals draw thousands of sportsmen to the United Kingdom every year, where it has become something of an art form. One of the largest carp spawning locations in central New York is the Seneca River below the Baldwinsville dam and next to Mercer Mill.  Carp fishing, seen by many as a sleeping giant locally, has yet to be developed to a significant extent in the U.S.

Mayor Dan O'Hara said Mr. Bernhardt and Mr. McKenna "are professionals who understand economic development. As mayor I am thankful they understand this, and we're very excited about the development of the Red Mill Inn." He said the project will greatly enhance the draw of Baldwinsville.

The mayor said he's also working on creation of a much-discussed new center for the arts, possibly on state-owned land to the rear of St. Mary's Church, the former site of a canal maintenance facility. He is also working with others on further local enhancements that may be made possible through the newly-designated Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

Mayor O'Hara said he recognizes every community along the canal is unique, and must do their best to take advantage of the resources they have. For instance, the village and the town of Lysander are in the process of creating a trail system stretching for several miles along the Seneca River that would link to other systems throughout Oswego County. The planning includes a proposed cross country ski trail system.

Another idea is to install water and electrical service for boaters who dock along the canal in Baldwinsville.

With possibly up to 5,000 people attending a single event on Papermill Island, "these are exciting times for us," Mayor O'Hara said.

And so it seems the village continues to give new meaning to the cliche "Come Grow with Us," and the Red Mill Inn will be a prominent part of that expansion.

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