Nearly one-third of the 140-year-old Richardson Olmsted Complex in Buffalo, New York, is being repurposed into the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center, set to open in 2017.
BUFFALO, New York—An old insane asylum in Buffalo, New York, will soon be home to an 88-room hotel, restaurant and high-tech conference center.
The Richardson Olmsted Complex in Buffalo, New York, a national historic landmark and the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, is in the process of being transformed into the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center, slated for completion in 2017.
The 1870s structure, designed by architects H.H. Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted, received status as a national historic landmark in the 1990s, said Dennis Murphy, Hotel Henry partner and president of Innvest Lodging Services, the company that will operate the hotel. He said the $75-80-million project is a particularly high-profile one.
“There are a couple other repurposing projects in America going on that relate to hospitality,” he said. “This past year, we were down at the National Historic Preservation Conference in (Washington, D.C.,) where we had the opportunity to chat about the (evolution) of this project.
“It was kicked around pretty early that the top two projects from their perspective across the nation was No. 1, ours, and No. 2, the (Old Post Office) building in Washington, which is Trump’s project.”
Richardson and Olmsted designed the Richardson Olmsted Complex with the idea of capturing as much natural daylight as possible in the facility because the doctor behind the institution, Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, believed that a light, welcoming and hospitable environment would benefit patients.
The hotel, event and conference center occupies space in the Tower Administration Building and two adjacent ward buildings, which is the first phase of the project. Hotel Henry takes up about one-third of the 480,000-square-foot complex.
A private/public partnership
The Richardson Olmsted Complex project is being funded by New York State and historic tax credits, which were purchased by M&T Bank, Murphy said.
“This is the poster child of a truly public/private partnership,” he said. “Resources of funding come from both public and private groups as part of a State of New York initiative because of its original development, which was in essence a state structure.
“Significant funding came from the State of New York, specifically after (the Richardson Olmsted Complex) was designated a national historic landmark,” he added.
Change presents challenges
Designing the interior of a building that’s newer or built from the ground up is often simpler than creating a new interior design for a 140-year-old structure.
“The repurposing (of the complex) is littered with challenges because this is a national historic landmark,” Murphy said. “There’s an extreme amount of coordination about what can be accepted, what can be done and what can’t be done.”
He said the design team had to think about whether the space could even be repurposed into a hotel, and when it was decided that it could be, the team started “working through following steps where you keep evolving the plan.”
“With the guidance of the Department of the Interior, they really had a strong vision as to what should be maintained, what should be kept and what had the ability to negotiate something reasonable to accommodate and refurbish,” he said.
The original windows were restored to maintain Kirkbride’s original concept of letting light into the building in the new hotel and conference center, and the restoration of 600 windows cost $7 million. The roof of the Towers Administration Building was replaced with slate shingles to look like the original roof from 1870.
“It was our job to look at those spaces (like the tower and ward buildings,) so that they could operate as lodging and for our conference center,” Hotel Henry partner Diana Principe said. “Those are our jobs, operationally, to take a look at those spaces and find creative use of those many unusual spaces to provide really unique setting for our guests.”
Architecture and design company Deborah Berke Partners took on the task of transforming the old asylum into a modern hotel while retaining original touchpoints, like the strong use of light and windows. Other design particulars: The company is using red sandstone from India to cover old stone in an elevator shaft that was once used to transport patients around the facility.
Conference, event space
Partners in the project may be working to maintain the original look of the Richardson Olmsted Complex, but event and conference space will have a more modern, high-tech feel.
“One thing that’s unique, in addition to the national historic landmark, is the fact that this hotel, like most boutique hotels, is not going to be a 100% transient hotel,” Murphy said. “This is going to be a very unique, advanced-technology conference facility in addition to the hotel.”
Murphy and Principe said the hotel began booking conferences and events three months ago for the hotel and conference center’s 2017 opening. Meeting and event spaces will hold groups of up to 500 attendees, and meeting leaders will have the option to connect with global and virtual audiences through technology provided in conference spaces at Hotel Henry.
The complex will also house an on-site restaurant called 100 Acres: The Kitchens, which will be open to guests and the public.