When the Marriott Syracuse Downtown hotel opens in June, it will be a homecoming of sorts for GM Paul McNeil. After 30 years of traveling around the country in various roles with Marriott, the Buffalo, N.Y., native will helm the reopening of a historic hotel that, he hopes, will bring a much-needed lift to a beleaguered region. “Moving around, you tend to reflect back on where you were raised,” McNeil said about coming back to upstate New York. “I always had an appetite to get closer to my home and family.”
McNeil has spent his entire career with Marriott, and built a reputation for opening and renovating large-scale hotels. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in hotel/restaurant and travel administration, he helped open the Atlanta Marriott Marquis in 1985, and then traveled around the country to work at a range of different properties—14 in total.
The common thread uniting these hotels was their size. “The Marquis was close to 2,000 rooms, and the San Antonio Rivercenter was over 1,000,” he recalled. After that he opened the San Francisco Marquis (at the time, the San Francisco Moscone Center) and, following a stint in Austin, went to oversee banquets at the 2,000-room New York City Marquis.
By 2007, he was general manager of the Marriott Trumbull (Conn.) Merritt Parkway, leading an extensive renovation at that property. “That hotel was a conversion from a franchise property to a managed property,” he recalled, noting that the process involved a full property improvement plan. “That doesn’t happen a lot.” Over the six years he was there, the hotel saw a full renovation of the guestrooms, ballroom, mechanical systems and—finally—public spaces, which involved bringing a celebrity chef in to boost the property’s food-and-beverage presence.
Before heading to Syracuse, McNeil spent three years at the Boston Peabody Marriott, planning and launching a major renovation. But for all their grandeur, the hotels were all decidedly different, and their unique qualities provided McNeil with an invaluable education. “The Atlanta Marquis is a convention property, the Charlotte (N.C.) City Center is a downtown property, and the Atlanta Airport Marriott is an airport property,” he said. “Really, what I was doing was honing my skills. My aspiration was to become a GM, and the more you do at different hotels, the more you realize you still have more to learn. Sometimes, the lessons you learn on your journey pay dividends as you grow and develop in your career.”
McNeil said that the Marriott Syracuse Downtown is a good place for him to wrap up his three decades in hospitality. The property, built in 1924, is being restored to its original glamour after being closed for 12 years. “It was in pretty bad shape,” McNeil said. A renovation estimated to cost $72 million is set to recreate the Prohibition-era glory days in the public spaces while also bringing the guestrooms up to the 21st century. “We’re pairing historical elegance with contemporary luxury,” McNeil said of the project, noting that the historic hotel has a strong connection to the community.
“The hotel is part of a renaissance for Syracuse,” McNeil said. “In the short term, there is optimism. Perhaps there hasn’t been that kind of optimism in the past.” The hotel is designated as a facility for conventions, he noted, which the city has not had since the property shuttered in 2004. “We are committed to working with the convention center and other hotels in Syracuse to drive conventions into the city, to drive rejuvenation and economic development,” he said. “There are great leaders in our market focused on changing and looking forward to a positive future.”"