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The Finger Lakes Business Almanac: September 1997 Volume 3 No. 4

GENEVA – Christopher Iversen put much on the line when he proposed the idea for a lakefront hotel here about three years ago. To build a $13.3 million, 148-room Ramada Inn, he had to win the hearts, minds and money of 22 private investors, the National Bank of Geneva, community economic development planners and his own business and family, which pitched in $125,000 and their reputation.

He and his Iversen Construction Co. were building a community resource unmatched here. It would offer new meeting and dining facilities, seek to exploit the city’s greatest asset, Seneca Lake, and represent a bold, new, optimistic Geneva.

The building took just eleven months to complete. So far this summer, it is on track with its business plan. Eventually, it will need an average sixty percent occupancy to succeed – eighty percent on weekend and thirty percent on weekdays. But you can imagine the pressure Iversen Construction put on Dever Architects, the eastern Pennyslvania firm selected to design the hotel. Here are some of the problems he ordered them to solve:

  • The needed a hotel and restaurant that visitors would treat as a destination. Almost all hotels built over the last half-century were near major highways or airports for people in transit.
  • They needed a hotel with two fronts – no backside to hide the ugly, all-business parts that modern buildings need to function.
  • The needed a modern building that seemed to belong in and to Geneva.
  • They needed to be careful about costs. Buildings taller than two or three stories must meet tougher building codes.
  • They needed a hotel appropriate for a stunning site, one that his lead architect, Dan Nichols “fell in love with” he says.

Mr. Nichols, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1989, says the firm gave the hotel substantial windows, most of them with a view of the lake. The hotel’s twelve suites got particularly large windows.

“We made the restaurant to have real character to it,” unusual for hotel construction, Mr. Nichols says. “We intended it to be very much a feature of the building, such that someone not staying at the hotel might stop at the restaurant, linger, have a drink.” Patios encouraged diners to eat outside. The menu specializes in fine beef and seafood.

Facing the lake, the hotel offers conference rooms and a 250-seat banquet hall suitable for receptions, parties and business functions. Large windows are intended to make the hall memorable.

The local Kiwanis, the Industrial Development Authority board and others meet at the hotel regularly now. The architects designed the hallways connecting to the ballroom, lobby, restrooms and other parts to be a public space, a “promenade.”

Because the hotel has no rear end, architects had to camouflage its dumpster and service entrance, which are placed near the lobby.

Geneva is a city of buildings “that have a lot of detail and elegant proportions,” Mr. Nichols says. Many of them have a “Victorian quality but don’t necessarily respond to the lake.” The solution is a “modern building that tips its hat to the Victorian era.” one that is “not completely alien,” or “shunning its neighbors.”

“It tries to be part of Geneva by taking on what we felt was the most prominent characteristics” of the city.

“The first floor has a certain massiveness. The second through the fifth, a beige material, a stucco. At the top we made a white band with a blue roof, a light feel.” The roof is designed to relfect different shades in different sunlight.

“Some of the language of the building mimics the brownstones-downtown,” such as the Smith Opera House, the YMCA, City Hall.

“If you have to give it an architectural style, it’s post-modern. But that very idea is to use modern building materials in buildings with modern functions using an architectural style that recalls a style of the past.”

Acknowledging the lake, the designers sought a nautical feel in several ways. They designed a logo that abastracts one angle of the hotel, the lake and sailboats. It’s used on menus, bellboys’s ties, napkins, stationary and other places. The sign in the parking lot is designed to look like a sailboat on the lake. From the suite tower, guests can look down at a sight reminiscent of the bow of a ship.

Cognizant of costs, the company constructed the standard guest rooms above the first floor from steel tube-frame modular units. “He didn’t spend money frivolously,” Mr. Nichols says.

But the company “was very much thinking of the long-term.” Iversen Construction “didn’t do the cheapest thing at the outset to save money.” It installed an innovative ground-source heat pump system, for example, which uses the constant temperature of the ground to run its heat pumps. Expensive at first, it will save money in the long run, Mr. Nichols says.

Mr. Iversen “had the vision to realize that to remove all those items would be to take away some of the special qualities for recognizing what a spectacular site he had.” The building “is not the Smith Opera House. But it’s not a wood-framed building either.”

“This hotel really wants you to linger in Geneva, to see the town, to see the lake. It does what it can be to be a memorable place.” (789-0400)