2017 Alumni Faces Honoree Ed Riley

Ed Riley pauses during the renovation of the old Hotel Syracuse. On the wall behind him is a famous mural which was uncovered during the restoration process.

Onondaga Community College annually recognizes distinguished graduates by naming them “Alumni Faces” for their accomplishments and contributions to the community. The 2017 class will be honored during a ceremony November 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall which is located in the Academic II building. One of the graduates we will honor that night is Ed Riley.

The man behind the rebirth of the landmark Hotel Syracuse is a former Onondaga Community College student. Edward “Ed” Riley might not be where he is today had a serious sports injury not led him to rethink how to turn his lifelong passion for historic architecture into a career.

Riley grew up on the west side of Syracuse and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy. He attended Syracuse University on scholarship to play lacrosse. A knee injury his freshman year forced him to reevaluate everything. “Since I couldn’t play lacrosse anymore I took another look at architecture. People were suggesting OCC as a good, affordable place to start.”

Riley enrolled at OCC and immediately felt at home in the Architectural Technology program. “It was top notch. It was run in a true office setting. The professor was the principal and the student was the apprentice. When we graduated we were able to transition to the workforce with ease.” Ultimately Riley would earn a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and pursue his professional career.

Riley working with a contractor in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Syracuse
Riley working with a contractor in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Syracuse

Riley started his own practice and chose to fill vacancies with people with OCC backgrounds whenever possible. “I valued the product and knew OCC interns and employees could come right in and be profitable.” Riley would eventually sell his practice and focus on learning how to refurbish historical buildings. His quest for knowledge took him across several states, including Hawaii, before eventually coming back to Syracuse where he was considering a specific project. “The Hotel Syracuse had been on my mind for quite some time but it wasn’t until recently I felt the timing was right and I had the knowledge to do it right.”

Riley took on the challenge of renovating and restoring one of America’s classic buildings. The old Hotel Syracuse reopened in 2016 as the Marriot Syracuse Downtown. “The new name gave her the fresh start she needed. For the people of Syracuse she will always be the Hotel Syracuse, but for visitors the new name provided the assurances Marriot brings.”

Riley is now working on a similar project in Niagara Falls. His latest challenge is to restore a shuttered hotel once known as “The Niagara.” As he continues to turn old landmarks into new community showpieces Riley carries a deep appreciation for the learning environment he found at OCC. “The faculty at OCC instilled good habits and I carry these practices with me every day. The solid foundation I built at OCC has allowed me to treat all projects with the upmost respect.”


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