The building that once housed the Hillside Inn on Stewart Avenue in Ithaca will soon be home to a different hotel with a unique concept, one that merges discount with luxury to bring an affordable stay near Cornell University.
Robert Poprawski, owner of Snooze Hotels in South Florida, moved his family to Ithaca a few years ago after a long career in the hotel business. Looking to put his expertise to work and create a hotel in his new home, Poprawski began to eye the Hillside Inn site as the optimal spot.
The Dorm Hotel, as it will be called, is set to open in March of next year, and as Poprawski describes it, it’s designed to have the look and feel of a college dorm. Thirty-one rooms will be fit into 9,000 square feet on five levels. Each room will be 80 to 150 square feet, with a private bathroom.
“You have dormitory-style rooms on the luxury level,” Poprawski said. “You have this budget-boutique-type concept.”
The conservative style allows the price to be significantly cheaper than surrounding hotels, which Poprawski said will be the main draw. Single, twin-bed rooms will sell at around $100/night. Doubles will be about $125/night.
“That’s really what we’re striving for, to create this budget standing that a lot of hotels sometimes take for granted,” he said. “It is a small room, but the price point is attractive, and that’s where we’re hoping to entice the guests.”
There will be no kitchen, with instead a prep area with appliances like microwaves and toasters. A small shop inside will have plenty of dorm staples, like instant ramen and macaroni and cheese, and college memorabilia from the surrounding campuses. Guest laundry will be free of charge, as will parking and Wi-Fi. A tap room will have beer and wines that guests pay for per ounce.
Transforming Hillside into the Dorm Hotel is no easy operation, Poprawski said. The building was old to begin with, and by the time the project is done, all that will remain of the old Hillside are the exterior walls, ceiling and foundation.
“When I took it over, it was quite rickety,” Poprawski said. “The only way we can keep the hotel use from the previous owner is to just renovate everything. We can’t bulldoze the building. … Everything’s going to be built from the ground up.”
Gary Bush, owner of SPEC Consulting in Groton, is the lead architect for the project. He said he enjoys working with Poprawski’s concept, though the old building presents its own set of difficulties.
“I don’t see construction as a challenge,” Bush said. “The challenges of an old building are the timing of things, the construction sequence – which floors do you take out first so that the whole building’s not going to fall down while you’re rebuilding the entire interior?”
The challenge right now, he said, is getting everything squared away with the building department. This is one of the bigger projects his team has worked on, and it’s very complex compared to others due to the tight space and so many rooms that need to be built with handicap accessibility.
“Making sure everything is 100% right before we start is always a good thing,” he said.
Bush said he liked Poprawski’s design ideas because most who visit the surrounding area don’t need much more than a bed and a bathroom.
“That’s kind of a trend in the hotel industry right now,” Bush said. “We’re finding that people just need a place to sleep. They don’t want to hang out in the hotel room.”
Further, Bush said he appreciated Poprawski’s extensive knowledge of the hotel industry and construction.
“Rob has been one of the best clients we’ve had because he’s very knowledgeable about buildings and construction,” he said. “It’s been very helpful to have him.”
Inspiration for the design came from a couple of places, Poprawski said. Snooze Hotels itself is unique in the area for its modern design that also cut out added on services and fees. That low-cost, high-quality concept meshed nicely with dorm-style rooms because Hillside Inn was full of smaller rooms. All that, combined with current hotel industry trends, led to the current design.
Poprawski said his average guest will spend one to two nights in the hotel, with common guests being tourists, businesspeople, interviewers, interviewees and more.
“There is a fair bit of clientele that we’re expecting from the university,” he said.
Ultimately, the goal is to draw in guests that are tired of paying too much for services they don’t need.
“We’re this little hotel right before downtown, … so if you can’t afford the Statler, you do downtown, and your prices are just slightly cheaper, … and we said, you know what, we can do a little bit better,” he said.
Moving forward, Bush said he simply enjoys being able to make Poprawski’s vision a reality.
“To me, this is the fun part is the actual construction,” he said.
Poprawski said he’s most looking forward to the completion of the hotel and getting to see folks enjoying their stay. It’ll be satisfying to see his vision become a reality, he said.
“[I’ll enjoy] cracking a beer open at the bar when it’s finally done,” he said. “It’s pretty stressful for sure, but just the grand opening will be nice and seeing all this hard work come to an end – come to a beginning, actually.”
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