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You are here The Red Mill Inn News 2005 News 2005  Story

Baldwinsville's 'Destiny'

By Erin Smith, Eagle Newspapers Staff
 
December, 2005
Baldwinsville's 'Destiny'

 

In about six months the Baldwinsville business district will open its latest addition, the long awaited inn at the Mercer Mill site.

The 175-year-old mill on Paper Mill Island has been the subject of uncertain speculation for years. On a smaller scale, the project has been similar to the Destiny project in Syracuse, leaving Baldwinsville residents questioning whether improvements would ever be made to the aged structure. Move over Congel, because current owners Jake McKenna and Jay Bernhardt have announced they will deliver the completed Mercer Mill project on May 1, 2006.

Since Bernhardt and McKenna purchased the building eight months ago, work has been completed on the foundation, piping, plumbing, ducts and heating equipment and Niagara Mohawk is scheduled to hook up permanent power soon. Crews have the winter to finish work on the roof, the siding and the interior. In the spring, they will begin work on the landscape and if the weather cooperates, McKenna said the inn could open as early as April 15, 2006.


How it all began

According to McKenna, Bernhardt called him after reading an article in the newspaper about the trials and tribulations of the Mercer Mill project. The two went out and looked at Mercer Mill and both were intrigued.

"It's very difficult to find a building on an island in the center of a village," Bernhardt said.
McKenna said they walked out of the building and noticed all the investment that businesses had put into the storefronts in Baldwinsville as part of the water front project.

"As we walked back to the mill it was obvious the one thing that needed to be done yet," McKenna said. "The skeleton of a structure (at the mill) needed to be addressed and taken care of to complete the business corridor."


History of the mill

The mill was originally built by Stephen W. Baldwin and John McHarrie, with construction beginning in 1828. It was completed in 1831 and was the first of between 20 and 30 mills built in the Baldwinsville area. As all the other mills succumbed to fires, decay and development, Mercer Mill has remained standing.

"The thing that struck me, as I researched the mill and the ownership, was it is the last surviving mill in Baldwinsville," McKenna said. "It's a testament to the structure."


Complementing corridor

When McKenna and Bernhardt purchased the structure earlier this year, they had to decide what the structure would be used for. They looked into previous ideas such as Developer Jim Orlando's vision for the property that included an upscale 37-room hotel with valet parking, a restaurant, banquet room and outdoor lounge.

"Although they were very grand ideas, we didn't think they would really fit in Baldwinsville," McKenna said.

They eventually developed a plan that would strengthen the existing economy rather than compete with it.

"We wanted to come up with something that wasn't going to compete with current businesses such as the fine dining restaurants, stores and bars," McKenna said. "We wanted to bring people into the village who would need those services. An inn would complement the village and bring fresh dollars in so businesses could work hand in hand for the benefit of the economic community."
McKenna also mentioned the numerous businesses and people in and around the village that could utilize an inn. Businesses could use the inn for out of town partners, associates or customers, while residents could suggest it for visiting relatives and friends. The inn would also encourage visitors traveling along the Seneca River to stay.

"Why not make the village a destination so people will come and have the opportunity to stay here," McKenna said. "Residents have guests coming in from out of town and there are business travelers and leisure travelers."


The Red Mill Inn

McKenna and Bernhardt had discussed several options for a name for the inn. Originally they had tossed around ideas that included the current name, such as Inn at Mercer Mill and the Mercer Mill Inn. Just recently however, the two decided on a new name, The Red Mill Inn.

According to McKenna, in all his research about the mill, he always found it referred to as the red mill.

"It was the one common thread through the mill's history," McKenna said.


Traffic and cooperation

One of the reasons past revitalization attempts met with resistance was the lack of parking in an already congested area of the village. Since The Red Mill Inn will not have a restaurant or a lounge, zoning laws only require the facility to have 32 parking spots to equal the amount of rooms offered by the inn. The Red Mill Inn will exceed the minimum requirement and offer 44 parking spots for guests. Also, when there are events on Paper Mill Island, the facility will offer spots on its property that are closest to the event for handicapped parking in exchange for municipal spots near Syracuse Street for inn guests.

The parking arrangement is one of the ways Baldwinsville has worked with McKenna and Bernhardt. According to McKenna, the village government has worked with them, not against them, throughout the entire project. The mill owners both have experience building in New York and unlike Baldwinsville, they said they often run into roadblocks in other communities.
"Throughout New York state, they dare you to build, then they wonder why they can't get the community going," McKenna said.

Both agree that Baldwinsville was a pleasant change from the norm.

"In 20 years, I have never had a government extend their hands and say how can I help you," Bernhardt said.

"Working with Baldwinsville has been a pleasure," McKenna added. "I am not saying (the Baldwinsville government) was easy or not protecting the residents, but it is entirely different when you have members who are willing to work together so a project can be completed."

 

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