Sunday April 7, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- A South County lodging entrepreneur with ties to Pittsfield is planning to break ground this spring on a $10 million Hilton Garden Inn next to Guido’s Fresh Marketplace on Pittsfield-Lenox Road.

Vijay Mahida, who owns the Comfort Inn and Suites and Monument Mountain Motel in Great Barrington, plans to construct the 95-room lodging establishment on a 2.4-acre parcel currently occupied by Dr. Lahey’s Garden Center at 1032 South St. Vijay’s brother, Pravinsinh Mahida, runs the Days Inn in Great Barrington.

Vijay Mahida, who holds an option on the garden center property, said he intends to break ground later this spring and open the new four-story lodging facility by the late spring of 2014. It would be the only Hilton facility in the Berkshires.

"I’m very excited about bringing this project to Pittsfield," he said.

According to the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, the project is expected to employ 95 construction workers and have a total impact of $16 million on the local economy. When completed, the hotel is expected to have between 25 and 30 employees, said Michael Supranowicz, the president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

"When you add up the direct, indirect and induced economic results, we estimate that the ongoing operation of the Hilton Garden Inn could generate about $4 million of total economic impact annually in the Berkshires," said Supranowicz, who stressed that he was confident in those numbers.

The garden center currently remains in operation, and Mahida said he is working with the center’s owner to help find a new site for the business.

Mahida began his career in the lodging industry in Pittsfield after immigrating to the United States from India in 1994. He later purchased the Monument Mountain Motel in 2000, and built the Comfort Inn in 2003.

Mahida said his goal has been to bring a hotel project back to the city where his career started.

"My American dream is coming true," he said.

This is the second time in seven years that Mahida has been interested in building a lodging establishment at this same spot.

In 2006, Mahida and a partner, Jeffrey LaBonte, approached the city about building a 90- to 102-room Courtyard by Marriott at 1032 South St. after the town of Lenox rejected the proposal. Mahida said that proposal never came to fruition because he decided to expand the Comfort Inn in Great Barrington from 60 to 93 rooms in 2007 instead. LaBonte is not involved in Mahida’s current project.

"What happened at that time was I discussed with my family what was the best thing for me to do, and that was the expansion in Great Barrington," Mahida said

"When we did the expansion, we upgraded all of our rooms to a higher standard than the typical Comfort Inn," Mahida said. "We’ve gotten great feedback from our guests."

Marriott is still interested in placing a lodging establishment in Pittsfield. Lenox innkeeper Joseph Toole is close to releasing formal plans to build a 91-room Courtyard by Marriott next to the Stop & Shop supermarket on Dan Fox Drive, which is only a short distance from Mahida’s site. Marriott awarded Toole a franchise last year, and has given him until 2015 to build his hotel.

Mahida believes there is enough room for both lodging establishments in that area.

"Pittsfield hasn’t had a new hotel since 1998," he said.

Lauri Klefos, the president and CEO of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, said there are 4,300 rooms available in the Berkshires, and they often cannot keep up with the demand during peak periods of the local tourist season. The lodging industry bounced back in 2012, with a 2.3 percent increase in occupancy rates nationwide, Klefos said.

And that Mahida’s project is associated with the Hilton chain, Klefos said, is a plus for some travelers.

"It’s not just a hotel; it’s a branded hotel," she said. "When people travel and come to a destination, they usually look for either proximity to what they’re doing, or they’re brand-conscious. They’re looking for a Marriott or a Hilton. A lot of people travel that way."

Hilton Garden Inns are licensed under a franchising agreement with Hilton Worldwide. They are considered to be upscale, mid-priced hotels that are designed for both business and leisure travelers, according to an online website. Hilton began the brand under a different name in the late 1980s. They have been known as Hilton Garden Inns since 1996.

Unlike similar lodging establishments, Hilton Garden Inns allow patrons access to alcoholic beverages on the premises, and provide late-night room service.

"Currently, we don’t have that product in the market," Mahida said, referring to Berkshire County.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.