LENOX — Hotel developer Vijay Mahida is poised to launch his formal application to town boards for a new, upper mid-scale, extended-stay facility and major event center on the site of the blighted, 120-room Magnuson Hotel, restaurant and banquet hall off Routes 7 and 20.
There have been several significant changes to the project since it was first outlined to town leaders in mid-September, Mahida and his associates told The Eagle in a briefing this week.
The application to be submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals within a few weeks reflects a downsizing of the hotel from 114 to 100 suites.
"We wanted to be responsive to any concerns in the market about too many hotel rooms, so we just throttled the number down, which is considerably less than what we're replacing," said David Carpenter, director of administration for Mahida Hospitality interests.
If the ZBA approves the Lenox application, Mahida predicted a groundbreaking this spring, aiming at an opening in summer 2017.
As a first step, the project will be submitted to the Lenox Conservation Commission at 8:15 p.m. Jan. 7 for a determination of any potential wetlands issues at the site, though none are expected.
A prominent area architect, Robert E. Harrison of Harrison Design Associates in Great Barrington, is completing plans for the application. He recently designed the Canyon Ranch condo expansion.
"You have to get a great design, and Robert's a magician; he's really talented," Carpenter said. "We've been talking about wanting a design compatible with the neighborhood, and now we have a great architect making it happen, so that's our biggest progress."
The entire cost of the project, including acquisition and demolition of the Magnuson, design and construction expenses, remains in the $20 million to $22 million range, Mahida said.
He said he has encountered strong support in the town for his plan to replace the Magnuson, "which is in such bad shape."
The Mahidas, who hold a purchase-and-sale agreement for the property, have been leasing and operating it since Sept. 1, pending the town's decision on the proposed hotel. The site is owned by the national Shivam real estate holding company representing Anil Pandya and his brother, Suresh "Sam" Pandya, who died last summer.
Two of the nation's largest hotel brands, Hilton and Marriott, are competing now for the rights to "flag" the new hotel, Carpenter said. "Both of them think it's a great project," he commented, "and we're in the process of deciding which it should be. We feel very good that we'll have a great 'flag' on it, whoever it turns out to be."
The property may be branded as a Marriott Residence Inn, as described in September by Pravin Mahida, Vijay's brother, who would operate the hotel. But, depending on the outcome of negotiations, it could affiliate with Hilton's Homewood Suites or Home2 brand instead.
"We're grateful that Hilton would want another Hilton in a neighborhood that already has two," Carpenter said. "We were approached by Hilton."
In Berkshire County, the chain includes the nearby Hampton Inn & Suites owned by developer Joseph Toole and Mahida's Hilton Garden Inn on the Lenox-Pittsfield line, which opened last August.
Toole has also started preliminary work on his Courtyard by Marriott hotel at Brushwood Farms, opposite Lenox Commons.
Design of the new hotel at the Magnuson — formerly an Econo Lodge and before that, a Holiday Inn — would be closely aligned with the look of nearby properties such as the Arcadian Shop, Jae's Asian Bistro and Lenox Fit, Mahida said, noting that Harrison had redesigned the Jae's and Arcadian buildings.
"My experience and my belief is that we have to give a design that hopefully will reflect those neighbors," said Mahida, whose wife, Chrystal, is collaborating on the plans. "We had the choice to go with a four-story flat roof, but we made the decision for a three-story, peaked roof hotel to give the town and the citizens of Lenox what they would appreciate and would like to see."
He pointed out that the branded extended-stay facility with full kitchenettes would be "unique" to the Berkshires.
While Marriott or Hilton would have "input" for the design, Carpenter said, "the brands understand local neighborhoods and they are very sensitive to the look and feel. So whoever it is will be sensitive that this is Lenox and whatever is built there needs to reflect the local environment."
"I'm very confident that whatever brand I go to," Mahida added, "we will have what Lenox would expect from us."
Mahida also stressed that the Lenox project would move ahead regardless of the outcome in Great Barrington, where the Selectboard is expected to rule early next year on his 95-room, upscale boutique hotel proposed at the former Searles Middle School on Bridge Street.
"These are two separate projects and markets, and we are very focused on both," he said. "I'm very optimistic that both projects will happen. I think our Lenox project may very well move ahead of Great Barrington's, which we all understand is going at a slow pace. I'm a very patient man and I will get that one done too."
By the numbers ...
Details on the Mahida family's proposed extended-stay hotel on the Magnuson Hotel site in Lenox:
Facility: 100 suites with living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchenettes; event center with capacity of 500 guests.
Cost: $20 million - $22 million.
Projected rates: $149 per night off-season to $429 to $450 nightly on prime summer weekends. A two-night weekend minimum is likely in summer; extended stay charges are discounted on a sliding scale.
Timing: If the Lenox ZBA approves the application, construction could begin this spring, with an opening 12 to 14 months later.
In their own words ...
"My history is that I negotiate with the brand, and I always convince the brand that I have to do this hotel for whatever town where I'm doing the project. When I negotiated with Marriott for the Fairfield Inn & Suites expansion in Great Barrington, I told them that if you'd like to do business with me, this is my town, Great Barrington approved me, and if you like what I have, I welcome you to change anything inside to meet your brand standard, but the exterior will be exactly what the town approved. They understood, worked with us and we have a very successful hotel."
— Vijay Mahida, hotel developer
"I'm solidly convinced that we will have the brand resolved enough so that what we submit to the town will stick, no need for modification."
— David Carpenter, director of administration, Mahida Hospitality interests