Mahida brothers propose razing Magnuson Hotel, building extended-stay hotel

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LENOX — Hotel developer Vijay Mahida and his brother, Pravin, are entering the competitive Lenox hospitality industry with a proposal to demolish the 120-room Magnuson Hotel on Routes 7 and 20 and construct an 114-suite hotel and large event center.

The facility would cater to leisure and business travelers, extended-stay visitors, as well as weekend and one-night guests.

The total cost of the hotel, which requires a special permit and site plan approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals, is projected at an all-inclusive $20 million to $22 million, including land acquisition from the current owners of the Magnuson, said David Carpenter, director of administration for Mahida Hospitality interests,

The hotel is expected to be a Marriott Residence Inn, said Pravin Mahida, pending approval by the company of his application for the brand designation. He called the project "a big challenge, but I'm not worried."

"Given there are no Residence Inns between Chicopee and Albany, N.Y., we certainly expect to hear of approval in the next couple of weeks," Carpenter said. "Families find kind of a home-away-from-home feeling at Residence Inns."

Typically, he added, Marriott finds that 50 percent of guests will be on an extended stay, defined as three nights or longer.

The project would be the first nationally branded, extended stay facility in the county, according to Vijay Mahida. "We wanted to bring something new to the market that doesn't exist," he said. "We are very optimistic about getting this project done."

Carpenter said he expects the special permit application will be presented to the Lenox ZBA by the end of November, and he hopes for ground-breaking early next spring and an opening by summer of 2017.

The 114 suites would include a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, except for a number of "studio suites." Rates would range from $149 per night off-season to $429 to $450 nightly on prime summer weekends. A two-night weekend minimum is likely in summer, while extended stay rates are discounted on a sliding scale.

"The kitchen is really the key," Carpenter said. "Overall, the all-suites product we're putting in is roughly 40 percent bigger than the average hotel room."

Year-round occupancy is expected to significantly exceed the annual Berkshire County average of 45 to 50 percent, reported by Smith Travel Research for the two dozen major properties it surveys, Carpenter said, citing dramatic seasonal variations.

"We've got to be as passionate about filling this with events as we are with filling 'heads in beds' in the hotel," he stressed. "If we do a good job at having events regularly, this hotel will do very fine."

The multi-use event center, occupying 7,500 square feet of a 12,500-square-foot building connected to the three-story, peaked-roof hotel, is designed to attract corporate retreats and business conferences as well as family celebrations such as weddings, reunions and bar mitzvahs.

A reception building and pool building will each be one and half stories with a peaked roof.

"This state of the art event center doesn't exist in the Berkshires as we speak," Mahida said. It could accommodate at least 500 people, Carpenter added.

The project includes an indoor pool, fitness center, a catering facility, bar, and limited food service for complimentary breakfast, and a free light menu in the late afternoon and evening aimed at business travelers who might prefer not to go out for dinner.

The hotel would incorporate design similar to the nearby Arcadian Shop, Lenox Fitness Center and Jae's Asian Bistro, "so we will be thoughtful of our neighborhood character," Mahida emphasized. The buildings will be within the town bylaw's 50-foot height limit, he added, and will utilize renewable energy such as solar panels.

Employment during construction would peak at 120, with preference given to local contractors. The hotel will employ about 25 to 30 full- and part-timers once it opens.

In addition to the recently opened Hilton Garden in Pittsfield, the Mahidas own two Great Barrington properties — the Fairfield Inn and Suites, a Marriott International brand and the Days Inn on Main Street. They also have proposed a $15 million, 95-room boutique hotel and conference center at the former Searles Middle School on Bridge Street in that town.

At the end of August, Pravin Mahida signed a purchase and sale agreement with the owners of the Magnuson Hotel, the national Shivam real estate holding company representing Anil and his brother, the late Suresh "Sam" Pandya. The transaction would be finalized if the ZBA approves the project's special permit, Carpenter said.

At the same time, Vijay Mahida has extended his existing option on a 20-plus acre adjacent parcel owned by the Pandyas.

"I will wait and see how other surrounding projects are going to do, and then I will figure out what is the best use of that land in the future," Mahida said. "Currently, my focus is to help my brother, Pravin, get this project done. We always have a long-range plan, and having the 20 acres in a prime Lenox location has a value."

An outline of the project was presented to Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, Town Planner Gwen Miller and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli on Monday.

"I was quite impressed," Pignatelli told The Eagle. "It's replacing an old, dilapidated hotel that was a premium Holiday Inn when I was a kid. The intriguing part of this proposal is the event space, that's going to be a real winner not only for Lenox but for the southern Berkshires. I'm very excited about it, it's going to clean up a blighted property and be a positive thing for the town."

Ketchen called the project "a great opportunity for fresh development of an aged facility that could benefit from a substantial upgrade in a district that seems appropriate for that kind of use. We're looking forward to working with the developer through the permitting process. We're going to honor the process, but if we can make the project work, it holds a lot of potential for being a good thing for the town."

"I'm excited to start the work early vetting the project and getting the application really 'board-ready,' " Miller said.

While the town's bylaw does not require the project to be reviewed by the Planning Board, she stated, "I hope to introduce a different style of large-project review, a professional staff review pre-filing. This will ensure that the project meets our zoning requirements, considers planning and land use goals, our public safety needs, is compatible with our public infrastructure system, and promotes good site design, layout and architectural style prior to the formal special permit clock."

The combined room-revenue tax and property tax from the new hotel are expected to add an additional $400,000 annually to town coffers beyond what the Magnuson generates, Carpenter predicted.

Financing for the project from specific in-county and out-of-area financial institutions is being lined up, Vijay Mahida said.

Attorney Edward McCormick of Great Barrington and William E. Martin of Pittsfield will be co-counsels when the special permit application is presented in Town Hall. SK Design Group of Pittsfield is involved in the project and a "design-build" contracting firm is being lined up, said Carpenter.

The Mahida facility would be near Yankee Inn & Suites and Hampton Inn owner Joseph Toole's $10 million, 92-room Courtyard by Marriott project on Brushwood Farms land.

Toole, who recently competed a Hampton Inn renovation costing more than $500,000, has predicted ground-breaking in several weeks now that multiple lawsuits between the rival developers have been resolved. He declined comment on Mahida's announcement.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

At a glance ...

Facilities: A 114-suite extended-stay hotel with an event center, likely to be a Marriott Residence Inn, owned by Pravin Mahida, assisted by Vijay Mahida and David Carpenter.

Location: Site of the Magnuson Hotel (formerly Econo Lodge), which would be razed, along Routes 7 and 20, less than two miles north of downtown Lenox.

Timeline: Special permit application submitted to the Lenox Zoning Board by late November; ground-breaking next spring; opening in summer 2017.

Cost: $20 million to $22 million.

Employment: 125 maximum during construction, 25-30 full-time equivalents after it opens.

Rates: $149 in off-season to $429-$450 on peak summer weekends; discounts for extended stays of 3 nights or more.


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