The New York State Department of Transportation began public hearings on the Interstate 81 overpass project in Syracuse on Tuesday.
Last month, the DOT released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a revised plan for the community grid alternative, and is asking for comment.
One group that has been vocal for years to keep I-81 going through the town of Salina rather than making I-481 the new I-81 is a group of hotel owners.
They say weary travelers making same-day hotel reservations on I-81 in Salina account for 30% of their business. They’re concerned that will decline significantly with the proposed community network replacing Interstate 81. The DOT said its study shows only a 1% decline in activity in this area.
Jacqui Paikin runs the Hilton on North 7th Street for E&M properties and she disputes that number.
“They’ve never called any hotels or general managers to talk to them, and any group of owners in that area to ask them, and we have that data. It’s just not close to those numbers,” Paikin said.
Paikin said I-481 is a hotel wasteland and the plan could have a major negative economic impact.
“When you have, indeed, someone jumping into our area, they’re going to have to stay somewhere. The next populated area to the south is not in Onondaga County, so we’re losing all that revenue,” said Paikin said. “And it doesn’t just affect hotels. Guests who stay with us usually need to refuel. They ask for a good place to eat. They might grab a bite in the morning.
There are 14 hotels in Salina near the I-81 corridor. According to the Onondaga County Comptroller, the county collected more than $7 million in room occupancy tax revenue in 2019.
“On a slow night, just at our hotel, we might have 15 people who just arrived the same day,” Paikin said. “In general, even if it’s 30. It would easily be 20 to 30 rooms.”
Mark Frenchette, the I-81 project manager for the DOT, disputes the hotel group’s argument.
“Our analysis showed that the percentages had much less of an impact on hotels than this 10-12% level,” Frenchette said. “Traffic volumes aren’t dropping all that much in those areas.”
Frenchette said the DOT is ready to listen and learn from hotel owners and any businesses that have concerns about this project.
“We’d be happy to take a look at any information people would like to provide us with,” Frenchette said. “We’ve lumped all the hotels together. I’m mostly looking at what the traffic volumes are on I-81.”
“There are currently no hotels on 481 that would help us sustain this business and revenue in Onondaga County and I think that is the concern of all hotel owners and other businesses,” said Paikin said.
Frechette added that he will make his expert economic analyst available at public hearings this week, as well as neighborhood meetings scheduled over the next few weeks.
I-81 in-person public hearings and open houses are Wednesday, August 18 from 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.