Ruth Bass: Plenty of room at inns we have now
It must be a field of dreams, this hotel invasion of the corner of Dan Fox Drive and the ugliest strip of commercialism in the Berkshires. If you build it, they will come.
That was the theme of the marvelous movie, and when the dreamer built his diamond, the field was peopled by ghosts who floated out from the cornstalks. But ghosts don't have credit cards.
Hotels are not fantasy -- they need human beings, thousands of them each year, preferably for more than a single night's stay.
The gurus of statistics -- people who depend on dreams as little as possible -- know that occupancy of hotel, motel, inn and bed and breakfast rooms is not 100 percent around here, even in the summer when the Berkshires and its roads appear to be jammed.
Occupancy, in fact, averages way below the full mark on a year-round basis. A lot of beds need no changing every day. They are as fresh on Wednesday as they were on Monday. Just take a look at the parking lots at 9 p.m.
Perhaps the developers dream of PEDA filling up that commercial/industrial space where General Electric once employed thousands of workers. It may happen. We hope it happens. But there's no rush to grab a plot, and it's taken years to get what's there now.
Perhaps the hoteliers dream of so many planes trying to land at the nearby Pittsfield "Municipal" Airport that several are in a holding pattern at any point in the day, a taxi line at the ready.
The rebuilding and expansion of the airport, creating a moonscape where a woods once stood, is another field of dreams. The rich will fly in with their private jets, but those who predict a chance for ordinary folk to book a flight on a commercial line don't remember Northeast, Bar Harbor and several other companies that have come and gone. The bottom line doesn't land in the right place.
Dreaming is fine for those willing to risk the money to go up against the Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn, some fine local motels, the Red Lion, Cranwell and, for the highest of the high-enders, Blantyre.
But is there fallout? Yes. With little prospect of an increased need for rooms, our locally owned hotels, motels and B&Bs will have to share the wealth with these two biggies, fighting the strength of Internet bookings and the lure of reward points.
A giant's ability to destroy is why the town of Greenfield in Franklin County barred Walmart -- they didn't want their venerable and excellent department store to close its downtown doors.
Environmentally, it's irresponsible to build things that aren't needed, using water resources and adding traffic (and pollution) to an area that is already not only unpleasant for drivers but often dangerous. New asphalt will add runoff.
The fallout includes benefits, of course. Pittsfield will get a lot of tax money if these places are built -- property taxes and room taxes and meal taxes. Tempting. People will work there -- most of them in low-end jobs and many of them part-time.
And, it's to be hoped, goods and services will be bought locally, aiding retailers, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, plowers of snow, etc. Once upon a time, boards of various kinds in Pittsfield, rightly or wrongly, questioned whether a new gas station or a new bar or a new package store was needed.
One of the reasons for the query always was whether we really wanted to see another set of gas pumps on another corner. And while the freedom to make or lose money usually wins out in such cases, it's still a good question.
People talk about the future of the Patriot on that same corner, but it remains dead (and never had many patrons).
Two more? Their rise from the ground will make the controversy over a flower shop disappear into obscurity.
Ruth Bass, a former Sunday editor of The Eagle, lives in Richmond. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.
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