Tony Dobrowolski: Develop carefully
If you read The Eagle regularly, chances are you've heard about all the hotels that entrepreneurs are interested in building along a stretch of Route 7 in Pittsfield and Lenox.
But there's also a plan to build two high-end resorts in roughly the same area that two other resorts currently inhabit.
Plans for a resort on the Spring Lawn property on Kemble Street in Lenox took another step forward last month when the 29-acre parcel was sold for $4.5 million to a new investment group that includes the former principal owners. James Jurney Sr., his son, James Jr. and his daughter-in-law, Gwendolyn, are now minority partners in this new entity.
Spring Lawn and Elm Court on Old Stockbridge Road, which was sold to a developer of "high-end destination resorts" two years ago, are both located just short distances from Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club and Canyon Ranch, which already cater to an upscale crowd.
Cranwell is on Routes 7 & 20 in Lenox, outside of the town center, but Canyon Ranch, Elm Court and Spring Lawn are practically located on top of each other.
Canyon Ranch is less than a mile from Spring Lawn on Kemble Street. Meanwhile, the back end of the Spring Lawn property borders on Old Stockbridge Road, a short distance from Elm Court, which is just over the Lenox town line in Stockbridge.
Is there enough room for all these resorts in such a small area? James Jurney Jr. believes there is. He said the key is "niche marketing."
"They all have a specific angle," he said, referring to the four resorts. Canyon Ranch, for example, places an emphasis on health and wellness. "You're not trying to bring in x number of people for the occupancy rate you're looking for."
Jurney said the new resort at Spring Lawn will have to discover its own "niche" that will hopefully complement what is already here.
I think it's great that so many developers are interested in coming to "America's Premier Cultural Resort." But three resorts located in such a small area conjures up images of other places where these kind of developments are stacked up next to each other.
I'm not suggesting that kind of sprawl will happen here, or that the Berkshires will turn into the Jersey Shore. Elm Court, Canyon Ranch and Spring Lawn are all located in historic "Berkshire cottages" where the buildings are part of the draw, so there won't be any cheap ticky-tacky seaside architecture here.
But there are places on Cape Cod where a plethora of upscale resorts have robbed certain areas of some of their natural beauty.
I'm sure the officials in Lenox and Stockbridge who will consider the plans for these properties will examine them very carefully. But I hope they take into consideration their proximity to each other when they discuss what is proposed.
Try as I might, I can't imagine JWoww, PaulyD, Snooki and the Situation visiting Tanglewood or the Clark, or even hanging out at the former muscle beach on Pontoosuc Lake. But there is a limit to the number of upscale tourists that a small area like the Berkshires can handle.
There's room for everybody now, but will there be in the future?
There are some areas of the Cape where the locals feel like virtual prisoners in their own homes during the height of tourist season. I know this firsthand because I'm related to a number of native Cape Codders.
With expenses being what they are, our towns could use the extra money that all these new resorts will generate.
But we should be careful that we don't sell our souls to get it.
On a related issue, Spring Lawn's sale has led me to revise The Eagle's list of the all-time highest sales of Berkshire residential properties. Since Elm Court was sold for $9.8 million two years ago, we've been listing it as the most expensive property on the list, but it's being removed because it's no longer residential.
Elm Court was ranked because it was originally built as a residence, albeit a very big one, but it was recently sold for use as a commercial enterprise, and that disqualifies it from the list.
For those same reasons, we're also taking Mepal Manor in New Marlborough off the list, because plans call for that property, also originally built as a residence, to be used as the site for a high-end residential substance abuse rehab facility. Those who read The Eagle carefully may have already noticed that we removed Eastover in Lenox from our list in the last article that we published about luxury home sales.
With Elm Court gone, that moves Southmayd Farm in Stockbridge to the top of The Eagle's residential property list. That property on Glendale Middle Road was sold for $6.9 million in 2007.
Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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