PITTSFIELD -- Another local hotel owner is poised to enter the intensely competitive Berkshire County lodging arena with a major new development.
Faced with the pending loss of their franchise agreement, the Desai family, the owners of the Comfort Inn on South Street, said Friday they will demolish the building and construct a new, larger hotel under a more upscale brand affiliation.
Mayur Desai, whose family owns the Comfort Inn at 1055 South St., said they had been considering major renovations for the Comfort Inn -- opened in 1998. But the Desais reassessed that plan, he said, after learning they were losing the Comfort Inn franchise in this area as of June to a rival local hotelier, Vijaysinh Mahida.
Desai said recent discussions with Marriott International brands drew interest from that group, which he said is now "enthusiastically pursuing us."
The plan is to build a new hotel for Marriott's Fairfield Inn & Suites or its Towne Place Suites brand, he said, beginning with demolition of the current 59-room Comfort Inn after the summer season.
The proposed hotel would have from 80 to 90 rooms, Desai said.
"We are building a state-of-the-art hotel with panoramic western views," he said. "As a new build, we will do the brand exactly the way it is designed and intended."
If the planned hotel becomes a Fairfield Inn & Suites, that would be a similar transformation to Mahida's renovation of a Comfort Inn in Great Barrington into a Fairfield Inn & Suites, which is expected to be completed by April. However, the Desai plan is for demolition of the old structure and construction of a new hotel on the same parcel.
Mahida also plans a 95-room Hilton Garden Inn almost directly across from the Desai property, at 1032 South St. That project has a city building permit but has been delayed by opposition from a third local developer, Joseph M. Toole of Toole Lodging Group, who has ties to a corporate entity that is challenging in a lawsuit the Hilton site right-of-way drive. A motion to dismiss that suit is under review by a Berkshire Superior Court judge.
Previously, the Hilton project's local permits were challenged by the Desais, who raised questions about the impact on traffic with city permitting officials. Those appeals were denied.
Mahida, who said he expects to begin the Hilton construction this year and hopes to open in 2015, announced in December that he now had an agreement with Comfort Inn's parent corporation, Choice Hotels International Inc., for the franchise in this area, which includes the existing Pittsfield Comfort Inn site. Mahida also said he is considering building a 100-room Comfort Inn & Suites hotel and has looked at three different sites, two in Lenox and one in Pittsfield.
Mahida said Saturday that he wishes the Desais luck with their venture, but he is focusing on his own development plans and hopes they can proceed soon without opposition. He reiterated his previous comment that Berkshire lodging developers should "stop fighting and work together to bring people to the Berkshires."
Toole, meanwhile, is planning a Courtyard by Marriott inn on Routes 7 and 20 in Lenox. That plan is being reviewed by Lenox officials.
Reached Saturday, Toole said he is "fully supportive" of the Desai plan and believes it would "dovetail fine and blend" with his Courtyard by Marriott brand.
"I think it is a very good move," he said. "And I think they will be very competitive."
Desai said Friday he first learned in an article in The Eagle that Mahida had an agreement to take over the Comfort Inn franchise in the Pittsfield-Lenox area.
"We had planned an extensive renovation of our Comfort Inn, but in view of our franchise being taken by Mahida, we hired Bradley Architects of Pittsfield and Guntlow & Associates of Williamstown to develop several new-build options, which will entail a demolition of the existing structure," he said.
He said a Fairfield Inn & Suites would be in the ideal brand in terms of room pricing and quality, in that it would be lower than a Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott but above that of a Comfort Inn.
"There is clearly a niche here to provide a real value-added option," he said. Desai said he is working on the plan with a "strategic partner, so financing is not an issue."
The building footprint for the new hotel would be larger, Desai said, and there would be an expansion of the parking area, but he said the parcel can accommodate both. He said that with all the recent lodging proposals in the Berkshires, a new hotel is what he believes will keep the business competitive. "It's a competitive market, and you've got to stay in the game," he said.
The developments along Route 7 in Pittsfield and Lenox are among hundreds of lodging, condominium and time share units proposed in the Berkshires over the past 18 months. Most remain in the planning or permitting stages.
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