Our Opinion: Hotel project will benefit Great Barrington

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Change is difficult, and nowhere more so perhaps than in the Berkshires, where symbols of happy times are often clung to well past their expiration dates.

In Great Barrington, debate rages over a plan by hoteliers Vijay and Chrystal Mahida to convert the Searles School building into a 95-room hotel. While a better case can be made for the historic value of Searles than, for example, Pittsfield's "historic" Wahconah Park, the reality is that the building, empty now for 10 years, has become a crumbling ruin.

The building's facade will be maintained so the project will qualify for an exemption to the town bylaw limiting new hotel projects to 45 rooms, and if that seems slick to some it is within the law and assures a remaining link to Searles. If approved, the project would rid the town of a worsening eyesore and replace it with a hotel that will generate around a half million dollars annually in much-needed town revenue.

Critics worry about traffic problems created by the new hotel but vehicle and pedestrian traffic are the signs of a thriving downtown. Pittsfield's North Street could use the traffic problems that "plague" bustling Great Barrington.

Arguments against the project have been made respectfully by letter writers in recent days, but some of the dialogue in town has been mean-spirited and conspiratorial, a Berkshire affliction seen recently involving a housing project in Dalton. The Mahidas, good Berkshire neighbors who have worked to accommodate the town, deserve better.

Searles School served Great Barrington well but now it is time for a new project that will serve the town into the future. We urge the Selectmen to approve the permits needed for The Berkshire to be built.


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