PITTSFIELD -- Vijay Mahida's goal of building a hotel in the city where he began his career in the lodging industry 19 years ago is a step closer to fruition.
The South County lodging entrepreneur, who owns two hotels in Great Barrington, on Tuesday presided over an official groundbreaking ceremony for the $10 million Hilton Garden Inn that he hopes to have up and running in Pittsfield by late next spring.
The 95-room hotel is expected to employ 95 construction workers and have a total impact of $16 million on the local economy, according to the Berkshire County Chamber of Commerce.
The groundbreaking took place on the hotel's future site, a 2.4-acre parcel on South Street behind Guido's Fresh Marketplace.
"This is a dream that I dreamed for a long time," said Mahida, who began his career in Pittsfield in 1994 after immigrating to the United States from India. "It's all coming to reality now. It's a real good feeling."
Mahida, who had first expressed interest in building a hotel on the South Street site seven years ago, officially purchased the lot for $455,000 on May 1. Construction crews have started clearing the land. A small structure that housed Dr. Lahey's Garden Center and an adjacent house have already been taken down.
A new hotel hasn't been built in Pittsfield since 1998, but the Hilton Garden Inn is located less than a mile from the site of another proposed lodging establishment, a 91-room Courtyard by Marriott, that is planned for a 12.5-acre site next to the Stop & Shop supermarket on Dan Fox Drive.
During Tuesday's ceremony, Mahida said that his project hasn't been embraced by everybody.
"Not a day goes by that the city hears from somebody who wants to stop the project," he said. "But I know I have the courage to get it done."
If complaints have been registered with city officials, they haven't reached Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's desk.
"I have not heard from anybody saying that we're opposed to it," Bianchi said.
"I believe the Hiltons and the Marriotts of the world understand the area," he said. "They understand the need for that kind of hotel space, and they understand what the competition's doing.
"I welcome both places," Bianchi said. "I wish them both well, and I think they'll both do well."
In his remarks, Bianchi referred to the site as a "unique, visible spot."
"It takes vision to see the possibilities here," he said.
Mahida thanked both Guido's and the Pittsfield Rye Bakery, which also is located nearby, for their support of his project. Representatives of both firms were in attendance and provided free gifts for the roughly 40 people in attendance.
"We're very excited to have Vijay and [Mahida's wife] Crystal as our neighbors," said Rick Robbins, who owns Pittsfield Rye Bakery. "The Hilton Garden Inn is known as a high-quality chain with a nice clientele, and we anticipate that many of the people that will be there will frequent our retail store. Vijay has already said that they're going to help promote our store and use our product there."
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who has known Mahida for 10 years, and Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michael Supranowicz also praised the project.
When completed, the hotel is expected to have between 25 and 30 employees. Jeanne Carpentier, vice president of the company that is managing the project for Hilton, said the Hilton chain provides growth opportunities for its employees.
"Don't think of this as just another hotel," said Carpentier, who said she started her career with Hilton as a breakfast server. "It's an opportunity to launch careers."
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