NY’s 50-person limit is killing hotels’ crucial event business, Marriott Syracuse owner says

Syracuse, N.Y. — New York’s 50-person limit is killing weddings and other group events that are a vital part of business at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, the city’s historic landmark hotel.

Owner Ed Riley, who brought the former Hotel Syracuse back from the dead in 2016 with an $82 million renovation, said New York’s 50-person limit on gatherings is unreasonable for venues like his that have large ballrooms and depend on weddings and other group events for their livelihood.

“These edicts come out from the state, and they’re very vague,” he said.

New York limits gatherings such as weddings, conferences and parties to 50 people as part of its effort to contain the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the sometimes-deadly respiratory disease it causes.

The 50-person limit applies no matter how large a function room is. That’s different than the state’s 50% rule for restaurants, which limits them to half of their rated capacity.

Riley said the Marriott could easily host events with up to 200 people in its famed Grand Ballroom while limiting its capacity to 50% to ensure proper social distancing. Events with up to 140 people could be accommodated with social distancing at the hotel’s other large ballrooms, he said.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the hotel industry especially hard, and the Marriott Syracuse Downtown is no exception. Since March, the hotel has laid off or furloughed 230 of its 300 employees, leaving just 70 on its payroll.

Since its opening in 1924, the hotel has been Central New York’s premiere venue for weddings, business conferences, holiday parties and other large events. Such business is a huge driver of the hotel’s room rentals and, just as importantly, its food and beverage business, which represents 50% of its revenue, Riley said.

The pandemic’s impact on travel and conferences has put a big hurt on that part of the hotel’s business, but the 50-person limit has unreasonably brought a near halt to social events, particularly weddings, Riley said.

″Our ballrooms for the most part have been empty since March,” said Riley.

More than 100 weddings booked for 2020 have been postponed, he said. Fewer than 10 weddings have been held since the pandemic started, he said.

“They’ve been very small weddings,” Riley said. “They’re usually a second or third marriage, often just a ceremony and a small gathering afterward.”

Crough wedding

Flower girl Ella Simon checks out the cake at Alyssa and Bill Crough’s wedding reception July 4, 2020, in the Persian Terrace at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. Calypso Rae Photography

He was hoping that holiday parties could soften the blow this winter, but that will not happen if the 50-person limit remains in place, he said.

Riley isn’t alone in protesting the state’s 50-person limit. A Buffalo law firm filed a class-action lawsuit last month in federal court against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an effort to increase the number of people who can attend weddings across the state. The lawsuit was initiated by the co-owner of the Arrowhead Golf Club in Akron, which hosts weddings.

Cuomo’s representatives say the 50-person limit is designed to prevent large, nonessential gatherings that could become superspreaders, in which even a small number of infected persons could transmit the coronavirus to many people.

The Hotel Syracuse closed in 2004 after 80 years in business, leaving the nearby Oncenter, Onondaga County’s convention center complex, without a headquarters hotel.

Riley acquired the hotel in 2014 with the city’s help and reopened it two years later as a full-service Marriott. His extensive renovations, which included restoration of its historic ballrooms and lobby, received $16.1 million in state grants.

Rick Moriarty covers business news and consumer issues. Got a tip, comment or story idea? Contact him anytime: Email | Twitter | Facebook | 315-470-3148

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