The once gleaming office building, world headquarters for Dunlop Tire on Grand Island, fell into disrepair and became a highly visible eyesore.
But today construction workers are busy converting the once graffiti-stained structure into a hotel that tourists will see from the I-190.
Jayesh Patel, CEO of Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels, the owner of 43 hotels, has poured $8.5 million into renovating the building on Long Road, and said he plans to open it as a Holiday Inn Express before the end of summer.
But the lack of an adequate sewage system in that part of the island could plug up the project.
There are no sewers in that part of the island and 45 days ago Patel said he learned that a septic system on the site is not adequate for the planned 105-unit hotel. He said he originally received approval for a 95-unit hotel, but even that was pushing the septic system's capabilities.
Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray is working with Patel to identify options, which include putting in a new septic system, hooking into a septic system at a nearby manufacturing plant, or running a pipeline under the I-190 to hook into a sewage system on the far side of the highway, which would need Erie County approval.
"I'm doing everything in my power to get this building open. It's one of my biggest goals," McMurray said. "People said it's never going to be built, but it's getting closer to actually happening."
After the sewage issue is resolved, Patel said he thinks the 28.8-acre site could accommodate a second hotel. If the Holiday Inn Express succeeds, he would like to build a $9 million luxury hotel adjacent to it.
Last week, crews were tearing up the roof on the old 72,000-square-foot Dunlop office building to convert it into a rooftop lounge. The limited-service hotel will also have a breakfast bar area, a large lobby, two business meeting rooms, a fitness room and an indoor pool.
Patel also plans to move Rudra Management's operations and marketing offices to the site on Grand Island.
"I feel very comfortable about the success of this hotel," said Patel.
He said building a sewage line under the I-190 is "an expensive proposition," which they would like to receive help funding. But he said he is not waiting for a handout. He said he was unable to get funding or benefits from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency when he bought the hotel two years ago because the ECIDA won't fund hotels.
"We've done everything ourselves with private money and through bank loans," said Patel, although he said he did receive $1 million from the state's Restore NY program for asbestos abatement on the building. "I didn't go looking for a handout. In this market you are going to have to spend the money."
Patel, who is 47, said he purchased his first hotel, a small mom-and-pop business in Dunkirk, at the age of 25 in 1995. Four years later, he built his first new hotel, a Best Western in Dunkirk. Since then, the Orchard Park resident has amassed a hotel empire, building or purchasing other hotels in Niagara Falls, Jamestown, Hamburg, Lackawanna, near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Lewiston, Amherst, Batavia, Ithaca, Ellicottville, Syracuse, Fulton, Bradford and Owego, as well as out of state in Baltimore, Georgia and Minnesota.
The Grand Island project is one of the largest renovations he has undertaken. The three-story white building was originally built in the 1960s for Hooker Chemical & Plastics Corp., but Dunlop took it over in the 1970s. It has been vacant since 1993.
The graffiti is gone from the outside of the building, although you can still see some spray-painted in stairwells. But not much else remains of the building's derelict days. Broken windows are being fixed and plumbing and electrical service have been put into the structure, whose interior was demolished down to the studs as part of the renovation.
McMurray said the town has tried to help Patel and other businesses by passing a 485-b local law. The state law allows businesses who expand and improve a site to exempt a portion of the added assessment for a 10-year period if towns and school districts pass a local law. The Grand Island School District approved the 485-b resolution for Patel's project for a three-year trial period on Monday.
Patel bought the building at 2761 Long Road in January 2014 for $850,000 from James Metz's JSJ Holding, the owner of Beauty Pools in Lancaster. Metz had taken over the property after repossessing it in foreclosure from former partners. He had planned to spend $2 million to restore the building and market it as a Gateway Center, but that never happened.
Patel told The Buffalo News in 2015 that he planned to spend $5.3 million to renovate the site, but he said this week that number will now be closer to $8.5 million.
But he said the purchase price was right.
And the location, just 6 miles from Niagara Falls State Park – and visible to 23,000 motorists a day on the I-190 – will become its selling point, he said.