Verbal jousting continues unabated between Berkshire hotel developers
PITTSFIELD -- Hoteliers fueling a so-far theoretical development boom in Berkshire County offer few signals their intense competition will abate in 2014.
Reacting to talk of a truce from Hilton Garden Inn developer Vijaysinh Mahida, Mayur Desai, whose family owns the Comfort Inn on South Street, said Mahida's recent statements rang particularly hollow with him. He said Mahida engaged in "a PR stunt" when urging Berkshire hotel owners to focus less on dominating the local market and more on competing with other tourist destinations.
At the same time, Desai asserted, "Mr. Mahida was obsessed with derailing the [Toole Lodging Group] Marriott project, as he himself is in a race to dominate the local market."
In an interview, Desai also rejected Mahida's contention that the multiple lodging development proposals announced in 2013 will be good for the Berkshires and will create a more attractive tourist destination with upgraded lodging options.
Areas like Cape Cod and Saratoga, N.Y, mentioned by Mahida as the true rivals of the Berkshires, "all have their own key [tourism] generators," Desai said. The Berkshires "definitely does not have enough to support all these developments," he said. "It is going to saturate the market."
And Mahida's comment that some rooms in older establishments will be "cycled" out because of the planned new development -- as he said was the case during a revival process in Saratoga -- was "kind of insulting to the local economy," Desai said.
There are some rooms here that should be replaced or upgraded, he said, "but not enough to be a major factor."
Desai also asserted that Mahida -- who is a cousin who once worked with his father, Dilip Desai -- has tried to promote his lodging developments while making his local rivals "seem like the bad guys."
That includes, he said, working behind the scenes against Joseph Toole's Courtyard by Marriott project for a site at 21 Dan Fox Drive -- a quarter mile from Mahida's Hilton Garden project site at 1032 South St.
As an example, Desai said Mahida came to him last year, after the Toole project was announced, and suggested jointly hiring attorney Elisabeth Goodman of Williamstown to monitor the project for environmental issues. Desai said he refused to become involved, but that Mahida later told him he would hire Goodman with the intent of stopping the Marriott project.
Eventually, members of an environmental group working with Goodman challenged a permit from the city to work near wetlands on the Dan Fox Drive parcel through an appeal to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP overturned the city-issued permit in September.
Toole said he would appeal the denial, insisting that the 12.5-acre parcel is an ideal building site with minor changes to satisfy the state concerning the wetlands portion. However, he also revealed plans late last year to shift his Marriott project to a site off Routes 7 and 20 in Lenox and to consider other development for the Dan Fox site.
His new Marriott plan is in the early stages of review by Lenox officials.
Mahida has admitted that he asked Goodman to monitor the Marriott project but, according to his attorney, William E. Martin, of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel, that was only during the initial city meetings on the project to look out for his interests. Mahida did not participate in the environmental appeal, Martin said.
The upshot of the situation, Desai asserted, was that Toole has shifted his Marriott project to a site in Lenox. "As a result," he said, "he [Mahida] has cost the city of Pittsfield at least $400,000 per year in room and real estate taxes that will now go to Lenox."
In another point of contention, Desai was critical of Mahida's recent actions and statements concerning the Pittsfield-Lenox franchise for a Comfort Inn from Choice Hotels International Inc. Mahida said he holds an option to buy a parcel in Lenox not far from the Toole project site, and that he might build a 100-room Comfort Inn & Suites there.
He said he now has the Comfort Inn franchise for a seven-mile radius, including the site of Dasai's current Comfort Inn at 1055 South St. According to that agreement, the Desai franchise with Choice Hotels International will expire after June 10.
A spokesman for Mahida said last week the developer had recently learned the Desais were about to switch the Comfort Inn to another brand.
Desai said this was another effort by Mahida to press a PR campaign while also interfering with a rival hotelier. He said he was advised by legal counsel not to comment on the situation with the Comfort Inn franchise, adding that he is considering his options to protect the family's business interests.
However, he did say, "That would be [economically] foolish," referring to the idea of building a 100-room Comfort Inn & Suites mentioned by Mahida.
Desai said he agrees with Toole that the number of new lodging rooms proposed in the area could, if actually built, saturate an already fairly crowded local market.
The Dilip Desai family began operating the former Golden Key Motel in Pittsfield in 1981, Desai said, and the Comfort Inn at 1055 South St. in 1998, The younger Desai, a Pittsfield native, said they also operate the Best Western Inn on West Housatonic Street, which is the renovated former Huntsman Motel.
In contending he has not been the aggressor in hotel development maneuvering, Mahida cites a lawsuit filed in Superior Court last year by a corporate entity with ties to Toole. The suit is challenging the driveway access from South Street to Mahida's Hilton project site behind Guido's Fresh Marketplace.
Eastern States Real Estate Management, LLC, purchased a small lot along the drive shortly after Mahida's development corporation closed on the Hilton parcel and later filed suit. A hearing on motions to dismiss the suit is scheduled for a hearing on Jan. 9, and Martin and Mahida believe it eventually will be dismissed or settled.
Mahida now plans to build the 95-room Hilton this year and open in early 2015.
And Mahida cites two challenges to building permits for the Hilton mounted by the Desais, which were rejected at the city level. The most recent challenge focused on traffic issues at the site, which is across South Street from the Comfort Inn.
The Desais contend the proposed Hilton will add traffic to an already dangerous section of South Street.
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