Despite hotel entrepreneur Vijaysinh Mahida's recent public offer of a holiday truce with rival developer Joseph M. Toole, the Mahida family's company is planning a new, competing project along the busy Route 7 and 20 commercial corridor from Pittsfield to Lenox.

Interviewed at his Comfort Inn on Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington, Mahida revealed his option to purchase land near Brushwood Farms in Lenox to build a $9 million, 100-room Comfort Inn & Suites, very near Toole's planned Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Mahida's potential site is on a 20-acre parcel just north of the Lenox Fitness Center. The land is owned by Suresh and Anil Pandya, brothers who operate the adjacent Econo Lodge, which is also for sale. Mahida asserted that he has the right of first refusal on any transaction involving that motel.

A letter of intent has been signed for the land, Suresh Pandya confirmed on Thursday. The price of the transaction is being negotiated, he added. According to Mahida, the purchase price would be about $1 million.

Pandya said he could not disclose the identity of the motel's purchaser, though he confirmed Mahida has the right to match the sale price and buy the existing facility himself.

Meanwhile, Mahida is completing $2.5 million in renovations to his Comfort Inn, a brand of Choice Hotels International, Inc., on Stockbridge Road (Route 7) in Great Barrington. On April 2, the 95-room inn will switch affiliations, becoming the county's first Marriott-branded property, a Fairfield Inn and Suites.

Opening yet another front in what some call the "hotel wars" on the Pittsfield-Lenox commercial strip, Mahida's attorney, William E. Martin, has challenged the design of Toole's Courtyard by Marriott in filings with Town Planner Mary Albertson and the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals. That board is scheduled to begin its review of the Toole proposal at its Jan. 8 meeting.

In a joint interview that included Dave Carpenter, director of administration for the Mahida family hospitality interests, Mahida said he has targeted Hilton and Marriott brands as "the top two brands in the country," part of his effort to bring "quality products" to the burgeoning hotel scene on the southern flank of Pittsfield and in South County.

"Both Hilton and Marriott wanted to put their flag on it," said Carpenter, referring to the current Comfort Inn site in Great Barrington. "They were very competitive, we love them both. We're proud to be the first Marriott in the Berkshires."

"Hilton was very disappointed," according to Carpenter, but their concern was assuaged by Mahida's Hilton Garden project on a rise above Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield, bordering the Lenox town line.

More recently, Carpenter explained, he and Mahida were "dumbfounded" to discover that the Desai family's current Comfort Inn property on South Street in Pittsfield is about to switch to a different brand, thus creating an opening for Mahida's newest venture -- a Comfort Inn for Lenox.

"We said, ‘Wow, no Comfort Inn in the Berkshires,' " Carpenter recalled. Mahida's company promptly acquired the franchise to build a new hotel carrying Choice International's Comfort brand in the heavily traveled Pittsfield-Lenox corridor.

If the proposed purchase of the land adjoining the Econo Lodge falls through, Carpenter said, there are two other potential sites nearby for Mahida's Comfort Inn project.

The current uptick in commercial activity along the Route 7 and 20 corridor, with multiple projects now in various stages of planning, is a positive for the area's economic development, he said.

"This would be like the most incredible thing for the Berkshires," Carpenter said.

"We think Joe [Toole] is going to build his hotel," he added, "and that will be good."

Asked why he and Mahida are challenging the design of Toole's Marriott, Carpenter stated: "We don't oppose the hotel, we support the building of a Courtyard by Marriott on that property. We don't believe Lenox is best served by a high-rise hotel."

"There should be some fairness to the process," Mahida said, referring back to his own, unsuccessful Marriott proposal in 2006 at the intersection of Housatonic Street with Routes 7 and 20. "A good product is in my interest and everybody's in the Berkshires and would be good for Lenox."

"Mr. Toole will get his hotel," Carpenter declared. "I think the hotel will be approved, but I don't know if the current design will be."

Mahida described the four-story height of Toole's proposed Marriott as "ugly" by Lenox standards but said he would abide by the decision of the town's ZBA and would plan his own nearby project to conform with whatever type of design the zoning board members endorse.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

At a glance ...

Here's a snapshot of current and proposed future commercial activity, north to south, along the Route 7 and 20 (Pittsfield Road) corridor from the southern edge of Pittsfield into Lenox:

Berkshire Mountain Lodge: Dan Fox Drive, Pittsfield, 147-room time-share resort, opening in early 2014 (formerly Patriot Suites).

Hilton Garden Inn: South Street, Pittsfield, a 95-room, $10 million project expected to be built in 2014.

Comfort Inn: South Street, Pittsfield, reported to be rebranded in 2014.

Da'Koto Restaurant: South Street, Pittsfield, Japanese hibachi-style steakhouse to open in early 2014 following renovations to the former Dakota restaurant.

Haddad Toyota: Pittsfield Road, Lenox, $3 million expansion approved by town to begin in early 2014.

Hampton Inn: Pittsfield Road, Lenox. Owner Joseph Toole has tentative agreement to sell the 79-room hotel to Plymouth Realty Capital Corp. for $12 million to $13 million.

Comfort Inn: Pittsfield Road, Lenox, new project proposed by hotel developer Vijay Mahida, probably on a 20-acre parcel adjoining Econo Lodge. Mahida has option to purchase the land for $1 million.

Econo Lodge: Pittsfield Road, Lenox. Owners Suresh and Anil Pandya are negotiating to sell the motel to an undisclosed buyer, though Mahida has right of first refusal.

Courtyard by Marriott: Hotel developer Joseph Toole proposes a four-story, 92-room, $10 million hotel on a portion of the Brushwood Farms site; Lenox ZBA to begin hearings Jan. 8.

Source: Eagle files