Ruth Bass: Common sense has no say on hotel issue



Celebrating the opening of a new hotel in Houston, Texas, turned out to be as Texas as anything could be. Everyone was dressed to the nines, and this was not a party where the food offerings were quickly decimated, leaving only lacy doilies and stained table linens for latecomers.

The shrimp, for instance, filled a dory. It was perhaps a smallish dory, since they run to 20-plus feet long. Nevertheless, it was a dory, clean inside and peeling paint outside, packed with ice and filled to the sharp bow with shrimp, a sight to behold. We knew we were in Texas, where the city tour we had taken earlier kept bringing us to the biggest, the best or the first ever.

The negative side of the hotel opening was that aside from a beautiful new facility, the company had little to crow about. Occupancy rate in Houston that year was something like 15 percent, and the man who welcomed the press and city officials that night was more regretful than excited. He expressed hope for a speedy recovery in the city and pointed out that things were a whole lot better when the first earth movers started excavating.

Abandoning the project was out of the question, so they pressed on while room occupancy in the city went into free fall. It was hard times. That's how it is with both restaurants and lodging places -- if things get rocky, the profits go south. It's not like selling potatoes.

But hoteliers still want to build. While national lodging giants fight it out on the southern end of Pittsfield's South Street, the natives look on in astonishment, wondering not only how many rooms our tourists need, but also how they're going to make a safe left turn after buying a dozen shrimp at Guido's.

The legal issues among these room renters will get sorted out one way or another, perhaps satisfying no one -- the present Comfort Inn, the would-be Hilton and the proposed Marriott. But the rules may or may not involve common sense. If the Hilton is built where we once bought Christmas wreaths, the competition for the exit from Guido's will add a special fillip to the risks of today. Many who shop at Guido's, cowed by the flying traffic on Route 7, eschew the left turn and instead head south to the nearby shopping plaza, U-turn and take advantage of the traffic light to make their turn back to Pittsfield.

It won't be quite as simple when drivers coming down the hill from the hotel are on the right of the Guido's patrons. Now the left turn hazard is enhanced by a right-turn hazard. If some of the hotel traffic is diverted to the Pittsfield Rye driveway, Guido's is sandwiched between risks. This may require more than the much touted blinking yellow arrow down the road a piece.

The other aspect of all this commotion that defies common sense is the numbers. If occupancy rates in the Berkshires range yearly from something around 45 percent to 66 percent, we must have rooms to spare already. If two hotels are built, selling online with reward cards to frequent users, someone else's sheets won't need changing.

We remember when friends casually asked us to get rooms in the Berkshires for them for the third weekend in July or the last weekend of Tanglewood. Those July dates coincided at that time with parents' weekend at the multitude of overnight camps for children and Beethoven weekend at the Shed. No way, we had to tell them.

These days, increases in second-homers in the Berkshires, some of them former tourists, don't need rooms, and the numbers say there's room at the inn. If the giants win their cases, it may become easy to sign up for one night at a time, instead of being forced to take three.


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