Nov. 3, 2012 -- After superstorm Sandy sparked quarrels over hotel rooms in New York City, one Staten Island hotel owner said he decided to "do the right thing" by refusing to evict storm victims in favor of marathon runners with reservations.
Richard Nicotra, the owner of the Hilton Garden Inn in Bloomfield, said his hotel typically is packed with marathoners every year for the annual New York City Marathon. But after Sandy decimated the city, leaving thousands without power as temperatures dropped, Nicotra decided not to honor marathoners' reservations made months in advance and, instead, gave the rooms to storm refugees.
His hotel even hosted a local resident's wedding reception.
"These are my neighbors," Nicotra said. "Am I going to kick out my neighbors who lost everything, who have not a place to go, for someone who's travelling here to run a race?"
Nicotra said several guests were shaking when they came in, worried that he would have to turn them away. Jennifer Sorrentino has been staying at the Bloomfield Hilton with her baby since the storm forced them to evacuate from their home. She said they were "running for lives" when a "river of water" came up their street.
"No diapers, no jackets, nothing," Sorrentino said.
Nicotra said the hotel first called the NYC Road Runners Club, the official sponsor of the 2012 ING New York Marathon, on Thursday to say the hotel would not be providing rooms on Friday and Saturday nights to runners who reserved them through the organization. He said the hotel also called individual guests who made reservations on their own to tell them the same thing. In total, it amounted to about 180 guests.
"Well, they weren't happy about it, obviously," Nicotra said. "But we asked them to look on the TV, look at what is going on in Staten Island."
Though the marathon-goers were told they could not have a room, the hotel did offer them a free cot, free meals and a free shuttle to the starting line as an alternative.
"This was bigger than all of us," he said, "but we told them, 'Come and we will take care of you.'"
Nicotra said his contracts with the NYC Road Runners Club are the bread and butter of his hotel, and forgoing those reservations was not an easy decision. He was also worried his corporate bosses wouldn't have his back, but they supported him.
"This [Friday] morning, I got a call from the president of Hilton on my cell saying, 'We're with you, whatever you need,'" he said. "And they are sending pillows and blankets."
After first announcing today the marathon would go on despite Sandy's devastation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg this evening bowed to public pressure and canceled Sunday's running of the world-famous race for the first time ever. The mayor's action came amid two days of public outcry that the event would take away generators, water, police and other supplies from efforts to help thousands of New Yorkers who are without power or homeless because of Sandy.
"We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event -- even one as meaningful as this -- to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track," Bloomberg said in a statement.
It was an expensive decision. The race typically brings in $340 million for the city and it had nearly 50,000 registered runners this year. Road Runners said every runner who qualified this year will be guaranteed a spot in next year's race.
The marathon traditionally starts at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, one of the hardest hit communities in New York City. More than 80,000 residents are still without power and many remain homeless. At least 19 people also died on Staten Island because of Sandy.
The Bloomfield Hilton Inn set up rows upon rows of cots in a ballroom so Red Cross volunteers and Coast Guard workers could have a much-needed rest. At the same time, a wedding celebration took place in another ballroom Friday.
Newlyweds Christine Hassett and Matthew Bobe suffered in the storm. The bride's family's home was destroyed, but her parents said they never once thought of canceling the wedding.
"All things you worry about and think are important are gone and my daughter is getting married," said the bride's mother, Pat Hassett. "And, you know what, you are so happy for her that for a day you have to put sadness aside and just live for your children because that's most important thing."