Cranwell expansion shrinks in size, grows in cost

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LENOX — A $60 million plan to renovate and expand Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort has been slightly reduced in scope, but its pricetag has grown by about a third.


The Miraval Group, a subsidiary of Hyatt Hotels Corp., is seeking to modify the project by reducing the footprints of new buildings by a total of about 5,000 square feet. It also wants to increase parking to encourage public use of its restaurant, and to alter the building plan on the west parcel of the property by eliminating a large structure in favor of two smaller ones.

Because of increased construction costs, and additional programming such as a wellness culinary education venture, the company's budget for the project has increased to $80 million, said Chevis Hosea, the Miraval Group's senior vice president for construction and development.

The Miraval Group completed its $22 million purchase of the Cranwell site last January. Construction had been slated to begin this summer, but was delayed while the project was under review by the company and because of a large number of scheduled special events at the resort.

"As the plans took shape, we began to revise our costs and we've gone out to the market, done some preconstruction analysis in terms of costs; some have increased. It's market-driven," Hosea said in a phone interview from Austin, Texas, where he's overseeing a Miraval resort renovation.

The Zoning Board of Appeals, which approved a special permit for the Miraval Lenox proposal last October, will review the changes at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 in Town Hall.

Construction activities will swing into overdrive after the start of the new year, Hosea said. Estimated completion is now May 1, 2019, just a month later than first envisioned. The resort will remain open during the project. The first onsite activity includes demolition of the existing administration building and construction of two new guest cottages.

"Miraval determined that it should make minor enhancements" to the original plans "in order to ensure a superlative experience for guests and further enhance the resort and homeowner community," according to the application submitted by MRG CRW Holdings LLC, the corporation operating Miraval Lenox.

Under last year's special permit, the company was planning to invest in upgrades and expansions of the existing resort, including the net addition of 43 guest rooms to the existing 105, building a new spa, fitness center, various wellness amenities and renovation of existing facilities. The room count is unchanged and the other plans remain in place, with alterations ranging from minor to significant.

The proposed revamp restores the 1896 mansion, Cranwell Hall, as the centerpiece of the property, relocating guest arrival and registration to a separate building in favor of hosting fine dining for the public and guests, entertainment and special events such as corporate and state government conferences and other large gatherings.

Guest services will be handled at the Olmstead Manor building, enhanced by "an elegant motor court arrival area," eliminating an enclosed pedestrian walkway connecting the mansion to a guest cottage, the application states.

"The mansion will remain a standalone building, creating a more majestic view from the courtyard and better resembling a grand country estate," the document said.

Miraval plans to expand to 80 spaces the current 40-space parking area to the west of the mansion to better accommodate its use as a public restaurant.

The new proposal includes refinements to the internal driveways but the entrances to the resort will be unchanged from the plans approved by the ZBA last year.

The total number of new and existing guest rooms remains unchanged, but will be reallocated among the dozen buildings accommodating visitors, including the mansion.

Since Beecher's Cottage no longer will be connected to the other buildings through an enclosed walkway, Miraval proposes to add 29 adjacent parking spaces to ease access, especially in foul weather.

Parking at Sloan's Tavern will be expanded with 12 additional spaces in front of the pub, and two more behind it, for a total of 66.

The proposed new buildings include reductions in footprints of the Great Hall, the Mindfulness & Wellbeing Center, the new spa and three guest cottages. However, the Healthy Living Center will be slightly larger than originally proposed.

A major change involves eliminating the planned combination of the maintenance and golf functions into one large facility. Miraval now deems that plan "inappropriate" and proposes instead two separate, smaller buildings — the existing maintenance facility will be demolished and replaced.

A separate golf cart storage building would be constructed south of the golf practice range with new carts and other equipment on the west side of Route 20, with public access through a pedestrian tunnel under the highway, which requires state approval.

Mass DOT is in the final stages of reviewing the plans, Hosea said. One lane of traffic in each direction will be maintained at all times, as the state Department of Transportation requires."We're hoping to get that approval this fall and build the tunnel during the winter," he said. "We'd rather deal with winter weather than summer traffic."

Another significant change involves the planned Outdoor Activity Center on the west parcel of the resort, which would be expanded to include equestrian activities, archery, hatchet throwing, hiking on interpretive trails on boardwalks as needed, a challenge course, environmental education and other educational programming. Those proposals require approval by the Lenox Conservation Commission.

Reconfigured plans call for 141 parking spaces on the west parcel, including the 85 additional slots approved in last year's special permit.

The total number of proposed parking spaces for the entire property is now 529, up from 414 in the original permit.

According to the documents filed by attorneys F. Sydney Smithers and Joelle G. Collins of Cain, Hibbard & Myers, the project's impact "will be entirely beneficial or benign for the community and will result in substantial benefit to the Town of Lenox and the immediate Cranwell neighborhood."

The attorneys said the renovation and expansion "will greatly improve the property, increase Lenox's reputation as a vacation and resort destination and add to the town's tax base."

They also contend that the proposed revisions to last year's plan will have no greater effect than the project that won a special permit last October and that the "minor effects" of the proposed use will be vastly outweighed by its beneficial impacts to the town or the neighborhood.

The special permit granted by the ZBA 11 months ago stated that the project serves community needs by benefiting "the general welfare of the town" while protecting the health and safety of residents, encouraging the most appropriate use of the land and increasing amenities available to Lenox residents."

The permit points out that for 30 years, the Cranwell site has been designated as an Estate Preservation Area for adaptive reuse and the zoning board considers the project an appropriate use.

"This investment in the property honors the existing, dedicated Open Space Area," the ZBA permit added.

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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