Hotel proposal is wrong for Gr. Barr.
To the editor:
We keep hearing that Great Barrington is based on a tourist economy. The reported income from hotels vs. restaurants tells a different story.
According to the state, income from hotels in Lenox is four times that of Great Barrington. In contrast, Great Barrington's "meals" or restaurant income is greater than Lenox's. What does that tell us? Great Barrington is not dependent upon the overnight "tourist" trade. Locals and visitors here search for great food and culture, rather than hotel life.
Great Barrington has a vibrant socio-economic structure that provides cohesion for its residents, both full and part-time, and its businesses. Its broad attractiveness also serves communities within driving distance. Yes, a segment includes overnight visitors, but many are "connected" to the town — those in boarding schools, camps and colleges, visitors to resident hospitals and nursing homes, and guests of businesses and residents.
So what is the significance of these large hotels? First, our hotel real estate taxes ($350,000, that is 1.5 percent of the town's total budget) are much less than those in tourist economies and so are associated lodging taxes. Second, large hotels transfer a significant portion of their income to their franchisers, so the money detracts from the local economy as compared to their independent counterparts.
Many have questioned the promise of new taxes from the proposed "Berkshire" hotel and the legality of leveling a historic structure in order to exceed the 45 room limit imposed in 2008. Since hotel taxes are driven by income, is there really demand? Area hotels run at less than 30-40 percent occupancy. Findings from a 2007 market research study commissioned by the town indicate there was NO additional demand for new hotels — and that was before the 93-room Fairfield Inn was built.
If permitted, two groups that own large hotels would dominate Great Barrington and can squeeze out independent operators. The variety and character of our hotels would disappear and the town would lose out.
The community knew what it was doing with its 2008 bylaw to limit hotels to 45 rooms. Great Barrington, as we know it, is the paradigm of the future. We are a local economy with people invested in building a real community. We need to capitalize on our assets, not replace them.